The term "science competition" does not exactly spell entertainment or prime-time television, but the success of MBC's Stars of Science programme proves that audiences want to be stimulated as well as entertained. Season four premieres on Thursday, and here's what you can expect.
From its title to its format, Stars of Science, created by the Qatar Foundation, is designed to celebrate the region's science community as well as perhaps uncover the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. The nine-week series searches for a new batch of young, Arab innovators, supporting and assessing their designs from conception and prototype to marketability. Of course, there is a competitive element to the show, with in-house and guest judges axing contestants if their ideas are not innovative enough to fulfil weekly challenges.
The casting call
The programme is a cross between a talent show and reality television. The first two episodes will focus on the regionwide casting call, held earlier this year. The judges travelled to eight countries, from the Gulf to Morocco (let's hope their UAE stop will make the final cut). In each stop, aspiring contestants pitched their concepts to the judges. Sixteen contestants whose ideas were deemed creative, realistic and marketable will then enter a series of competitive rounds.
Show me the proof
Here is the fun and brain-tickling part: after spending years imagining their inventions, contestants will have their creations put under the critical spotlight. First, they must undergo the judges' thorough interrogation to see if the idea can do what it promises.
This will be followed by the engineering round, where the nuts and bolts of each concept are examined. The design stage is next, where candidates prove their concepts are aesthetically pleasing before moving on to convince judges of the concept's sales power.
This will be the only live episode. The remaining four contestants will launch their products. A special grand jury and texting television audiences will decide the winner.
There is no disputing the fact the programme's judges know their stuff. Dr Fourad Mrad works for the United Nations in Beirut and was a former professor of engineering at the American University of Beirut. He is joined by Ibrahim Saleh Al Naimi, a chemistry professor from Qatar University.
"When we started in season one, we were tapping those who were already out there, but now in season four, we are cultivating the seeds we put in the viewers' minds back from the first season," says Dr Mrad. "People are now starting to think about developing and creating to participate in the show or start a different life. The objective of the show is to show science is useful in solving our problems. It's not just that science is fun."
Stars of Science will have a light touch courtesy of the popular Qatari personality Khalid Al Jumaily. Known for anchoring sporting events, Jumaily says he will ditch the kandura for a more youthful look. "It will be a mixture of Qatari and casual clothing to keep the show looking not too serious," he says. "Even the way I narrate the stories, it will be light and witty, not too straight. I think doing it this way will provide a balance for the show's serious content."
A generous amount of money will be given to the four finalists to continue working on their concepts. The first prize winner will receive US$300,000 (Dh1.1m), the second will walk away with $150,000 and the third will pocket $100,000. Unlike other talent competitions, there is a prize for fourth place, a cool $50,000.
Have any bright ideas?
Fancy your chances of creating the next iPhone or feather-light laptop? Stars of Science is already on the lookout for season five contestants; applications close in December. For details, visit www.starsofscience.com.
Stars of Science premieres on MBC4 at 9pm on Thursday
Since its 2009 launch, Stars of Science has already unearthed three inventive gems
Season 1 (2009): Bassam Jalgha
Jalgha, from Lebanon, created an auto-tuner device for Arabian stringed instruments. Recently patented under the name Tork, the device is in its third prototype phase and is expected to be launched next year. For details, visit www.depotbeirut.com.
Season 2 (2010): Sadek Qassim
The Kuwaiti's invention, the Alchemist, is a device that tests crude oil and other substances. Its stand-out feature is its ability to complete five tasks at the same time. Sadek has already received an extra US$1.8 million (Dh6.6m) cash injection from investors and the product will hit the market in the near future.
Season 3 (2011): Haitham Desouki
The Egyptian's Vifi are stickers that transform surfaces such as wood and glass into touch sensors that could operate neighbouring products. Vifi is now available in Egypt and garnered Desouki international awards from Japan, Egypt and Kuwait.