Northwestern professor Brenna Argall featured on CBS’s “Mission Unstoppable”


Courtesy of Litton Entertainment-IF/THEN Collection

Northwestern Prof. Brenna Argall stands next to the wheelchair she and her lab created. She was featured on CBS’s “Mission Unstoppable” last Saturday.

Rebecca Aizin, Arts & Entertainment Editor

When McCormick School of Engineering Prof. Brenna Argall was in college, it only took one class to change her career trajectory toward the field of autonomous robotics.

Since then, she has worked with her lab to create an autonomous wheelchair that uses external sensors to measure distance and avoid collisions, making it more accessible to people who find it a burden to use a typical wheelchair.

Argall and the autonomous wheelchair were featured on Saturday’s episode of CBS show “Mission Unstoppable” hosted by Miranda Cosgrove and produced by Litton Entertainment and Lyda Hill Philanthropies IF/THEN initiative.

The show tells stories of women from diverse backgrounds in STEM to inspire younger girls to pursue careers in those fields.

“Seeing someone like you, whether it be the same race or gender or socioeconomic status, doing something that you can see yourself doing is very powerful,” Argall said. “These small instances of exposure can have a transformative effect on your life.”

Argall said she hopes her segment on the show will allow children with motor impairments to see a future for themselves in STEM, knowing there is currently more accessible machinery being built and they could be a part of developing it.

Argall leads argallab at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, aiming to create more autonomous robots to help people with motor impairments operate assistive machinery. Her work has been recognized by “Digital Trends” and NPR’s Morning Edition, and in 2016 she was named one of the 40 under 40 by Crain’s Chicago Business.

Anna Wenger, an executive producer and showrunner, said “Mission Unstoppable” producers wanted to highlight Argall’s work because it lies on the cutting edge of technology.

Wenger said women are often told they are not meant to be in science and technology fields, that it is not “becoming” of a woman to work in these typically men-dominated fields.

“Despite what society has built up against them, these are women who resist every message society has given them that science isn’t for women,” Wenger said. “They have completely been able to ignore that societal dictation and become who they are.”

Wenger said the show is the only of its kind in its conscious efforts to provide diverse role models for young girls and to show STEM can be used in aspects of daily life as well.

Matt Crommett is the director of IF/THEN, an initiative to empower women to pursue careers in STEM. He said he hopes the show and Argall’s story keeps young girls interested in science and helps increase representation in related fields.

“How could you not be inspired after seeing the job that (Brenna) has? She spends her whole day thinking about how to improve the lives of others using technology,” Crommett said. “We’re hoping this gives (the audience) energy to consider STEM careers as options.”

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Twitter: @rebecca_aizin

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