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Alum, TV Show Host Mike North to Speak at UCSB’s Graduate Division Commencement

The Graduate Division is pleased to announce that 2006 UCSB Ph.D. alum Dr. Mike North — an innovator, a science TV show host and the founder of the nonprofit ReAllocate — will be the keynote speaker for the division’s commencement ceremony on Sunday, June 15.

Dr. Mike North
Dr. Mike North

Dr. North has been involved in all aspects of technological innovation — from inventing new materials and technologies in a cleanroom to creating cutting-edge prototypes on Discovery Channel’s Prototype This! TV program. He is an energetic and charismatic science and technology advocate who inspires grade-schoolers to CEOs.

Dr. North holds three degrees from UCSB: a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering in 2001; a master of science in materials in 2002; and a Ph.D. in materials with an emphasis in nanotechnology in 2006. His Ph.D. project involved studying the natural adhesive found on the pad of a gecko’s foot and designing and fabricating the world’s first synthetic adhesive that can be turned on and off electronically.

“I'm stoked to return to UCSB as speaker for the Graduate Division’s commencement,” Dr. North said. “Having been ‘out in the wild’ for seven years, I have come to understand all of the ways that UC Santa Barbara prepared me for a modern-day career.

"Not only is UCSB a top-ranked school academically, but the extreme culture of collaboration that exists throughout this university also represents where our society is and needs to be directed in order for us to continue to innovate and build a better world.”

Dr. Carol Genetti, dean of the Graduate Division, said: "I am thrilled to be able to highlight Dr. North at this year’s commencement ceremony. In addition to his distinguished scholarship, he is a sterling example of how UC Santa Barbara’s graduate alumni are transforming the campus ethos of interdisciplinarity, collaboration and entrepreneurship into creative careers of tremendous impact."

Dr. North’s scientific interests include such specialties as biomimetics, micro/nanofabrication, nanoscale microscopy and micro/nanomechanical characterization. His investigations in these areas have been published in leading scientific journals, including Advanced Materials and Nature.

He also has a knack for building large-scale avant-garde art, such as fire-breathing 90-mph dragon ships and classic BMWs loaded with computer-controlled fire-blasting cannons.

Soon after he received his Ph.D. from UCSB, Dr. North’s unique mix of engineering and artistic skills got him noticed by the Discovery Channel. The network called upon him to develop the concept for and act as co-host of the television show Prototype This! In the 2008-09 series, Dr. North led teams of inventors, builders and engineers to create never-before-seen spectacles of engineering in short periods of time. These experts from all areas of science, technology and manufacturing built creations ranging from six-legged all terrain vehicles to 30-foot-tall waterslide simulators to lifesaving firefighting equipment.

Dr. North co-hosts the Science Channel show utrageous Acts of Science, and is currently in production with the Discovery Channel for his own new online show in which he travels the world finding top innovators across all disciplines, “catching them while they are still in the making.”

His advisor when he was a UCSB student, mechanical engineering professor Dr. Kimberly Turner, was thrilled to hear the news that Dr. North will be the keynote speaker.

“Dr. North is definitely one of those students who continues to have lifetime lasting impact on me,” she said. “It was clear from the first time I met him, as a UCSB undergrad, that he was destined for great things. He is definitely a man with passion for discovery, and a deep humanitarian side as well. From the highly engineered ‘fire-breathing dragon’ art car he built to take to Burning Man, to the first reversible gecko-based adhesion, Mike takes on everything at full speed. I cannot wait to hear what he has to tell our graduates, and I can be certain it will be energetic and profound.”

During his multifaceted career, Dr. North has contributed his innovative ideas to the toy industry as the chief technology officer at Nukotoys Inc., a company dedicated to “redefining toys for today’s digitally fascinated kids and their engaged parents.” And through his design firm, North Design Labs, he invents new materials and technologies.

Dr. North is most passionate, however, about the nonprofit he founded in 2011, ReAllocate. The organization leverages a volunteer network of high-level technologists, designers and innovative thinkers to holistically address real-world problems. ReAllocate assembles teams of world-class talent and pairs them with issues faced in developing and disenfranchised parts of the world. By providing the structure, strategic partnerships, and funding necessary to address these issues, ReAllocate is executing innovative and effective solutions to a wide range of problems. Its motto is “World Class Talent, Real World Solutions.”

Dr. North also teaches a graduate course at UC Berkeley called “Cooperative Innovation.” In it, students learn to use their skills of empathy, creativity, collaboration and storytelling to make a difference in the world. Seeking to broaden the reach of his class, which has 15 students, he is shooting the course like a reality TV show. He hopes by making these ideas more widely available through the Internet, people can learn and be inspired to take their skills and reallocate them.

Dr. North followed in his sibling’s footsteps when he came to UC Santa Barbara.

“My older brother, now with his own lab at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, also attended UCSB, and I'd be lying if I said that those trips down to visit him in IV in the early ’90s weren't part of the inspiration for coming to UCSB,” he said. “Although when I finally left, it was the mountains that I would come to miss. I had some of my best ideas for my work in the cleanroom on hikes in those mountains!”

The 2014 Graduate Division commencement will be held at 4 p.m. June 15 on the Faculty Club Green. For more information, click here for the Graduate Division's commencement page.

— Patricia Marroquin is the communications director for the UCSB Graduate Division and writes for The Graduate Post.

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