How Grant Imahara Made Me a Better Maker

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How Grant Imahara Made Me a Better Maker

I don’t remember the first time I saw Mythbusters, but I knew pretty early into its beginnings that it was my favorite TV show, probably ever. It transformed science from a stuffy class that only the brainy kids excelled at into a thrilling voyage of solving mysteries where anything can happen, appealing to everyone on the entire planet. It took those same lessons that gave us all such tremendous anxiety on school exams and gave them a practical, physical representation that was so enjoyable and so much easier to understand that they inspired you to want to do science too — and countless youngsters (and adults) embarked on science-and-engineering academic and professional careers because of it.

Mythbusters also inspired lots of copycat TV shows, but the part that none of them could replicate was the undeniable chemistry of the Mythbusters hosts, who brought real smarts and even more real enthusiasm and excitement to their work. It was contagious. Just watching the show made you feel like you were part of their fun gang.

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Of the five regulars, all of whom were very skilled in the workshop, Grant Imahara provided the most technical expertise, leveraging his background in electronics and robotics to create devices that could measure forces, or as they often did on the show, exert massive forces. He came to the show as a Battlebots champion and a builder of models and robots used in TV and movies, including the Energizer Bunny and the R2D2 models from the Star Wars prequels. And he did it with that great smile. He was the real deal.

Grant, showing me his Geoff Peterson robot before delivering it to Craig Ferguson.

In 2008 and 2009, I was cast to co-host a couple of those Mythbusters copycat shows, one using science and engineering to prove or dispel the legends and lore of rock and roll history, and another where I’d build and explain massive contraptions that would potentially destroy prizes that contestants were trying to save with their own builds. There was no mistaking what inspired these programs, and I absolutely tried to channel my best Grant Imahara as I designed and built the machines we used. Looking back, I don’t think I came even close.

Because of shared producers and networks, I got to meet Grant in early 2010 at a Discovery Channel event. He was immediately wonderful. I was shocked that he knew the shows I had done. A couple months later he sent me a note that he was in town with a robot he was building for the Craig Ferguson show. I stopped by his hotel to see it, still stored in his suitcase; we talked about the microcontrollers he learned on doing his EE degree at USC, and the growing Arduino movement. On my next trip to SF, he brought me to the Mythbusters shop, which felt like a dream. We met various times after that for dinner or to catch up.

Grant, along with Kari Byron, Zach Selwyn, and me, at the Discovery Channel 25th anniversary party in Pasadena, CA

Grant was always helpful. In 2012 I taught a youth summer program about science and engineering, and Grant agreed to Skype into one of the classes to talk to the students. In 2014, I asked him if he’d want to contribute to our “robotics” issue of Make:. He supplied us with one of the best articles I’ve been part of, full of technical information presented in such an entertaining way. Just like his work on Mythbusters. The trip to his home in Los Angeles is still one of my favorite work experiences with Make:, getting to see him unearth all of his robot creations in his new garage to set up his spider robot for the cover photoshoot.

Grant setting up for the Make: Vol.39 cover shoot in his garage.

My last chat with Grant was last year when I was headed to Tokyo for Maker Faire. He happened to be in Japan at the same time, and we wrote back and forth trying to find a way to meet up. We weren’t able to coordinate it, but his excitement to connect while traveling on the other side of the planet still stands out as an example of the thoughtfulness and energy that he always carried.

Seeing the messages from so many about his passing, I know Grant had affected lots of people in the same way, and there are many that were even closer to him than I was. I feel awful for them, and for everyone. We’re all at a great loss. But I also look back and appreciate that we were all graced with Grant’s skills, as a builder, a presenter, and as a fantastic person overall. He made science cool. He made engineering fun. I changed my life because of him. Many people changed their lives because of him. The world is a better place because of what he gave us.

I’ll miss you, Grant. Thank you for all the inspiration. I wouldn’t be where I am without you.

Me and Grant, World Maker Faire New York 2016.
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Mike Senese

Mike Senese is a content producer with a focus on technology, science, and engineering. He served as Executive Editor of Make: magazine for nearly a decade, and previously was a senior editor at Wired. Mike has also starred in engineering and science shows for Discovery Channel, including Punkin Chunkin, How Stuff Works, and Catch It Keep It.

An avid maker, Mike spends his spare time tinkering with electronics, fixing cars, and attempting to cook the perfect pizza. You might spot him at his local skatepark in the SF Bay Area.

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