I remember binge-watching the show Parks and Recreation with my youngest son. It was great. But then we got to the last episode and he said he didn’t want to watch it. If we watch it, then it will be over. That’s how I feel about this episode.

Note: don’t worry — I still have a bunch more MacGyver stuff. I’m working on my paper clip videos (building stuff using paper clips). You can see those here:

Now for the science in this episode.

The Drake Equation and the Fermi Paradox

It’s not really a MacGyver-moment, but it’s an…

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Image: CBS/MacGyver from Episode 401

For the first episode of Season 4 (Fire + Ashes + Legacy = Phoenix). It starts off with all the members of the team from the Phoenix foundation doing their own thing. Riley does computer support, and Bozer is making a movie — but MacGyver has picked up a job as some type of adjunct lecturer at a university.

OK, let’s go ahead and talk about this academic position. Could Angus be a professor? Probably not. For most institutions, a professor would be a tenure-track position (able to earn tenure). This includes the academic ranks of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor…


DIY Catchpole

MacGyver is trying to find a missing phone and he gets Riley to track it down — but it’s moving. It turns out that the phone is in a storm drain moving along with the water. When he finds it, he needs to grab it out with a pole — a catch pole.

Image: CBS/MacGyver

The key idea for a catch pole is to have a tube with a string running down the middle. This string then makes a loop on the other end. When you pull the string, the loop gets smaller. …


Photo: Rhett Allain

I don’t think that title really explains the problem. It’s called the Dzhanibekov Effect — but that doesn’t really help either. How about this? Imagine you are in the International space station and you unscrew a t-handle really fast. Once the handle leaves the thread, it’s just floating there and spinning. Then this happens (here is the YouTube version):


DIY Epoxy Putty

MacGyver, Riley, and Bozer are on a ship — and that ship is in trouble. It’s sinking. In order to seal some leaks, MacGyver makes some epoxy putty. He uses: olive oil, sand, epoxy resin, and shampoo.

He’s actually trying to make something like this epoxy putty.

Here is a DIY putty (clay) that is similar.

But the bad news — it doesn’t work. Something went wrong.

What Went Wrong?

MacGyver is trying to figure out why the epoxy putty failed. If you’ve watched the show, you know the reason. He’s losing feeling in his hands…


Disable a Motorcycle

Some dudes are trying to escape with a motorcycle. MacGyver uses a strap with a hook and launches at the motorcycle. The hook grabs onto the chain and then Mac pulls so that the chain pops off the gear.

Oh, sure — this would be pretty hard to accomplish, but it’s at least plausible. Normally these motorcycle chains are fairly difficult to remove, but it’s possible it was loose to begin with.

Henna Oxidation Test

So, there is a henna smudge on a murder victim. As part of the wedding festivities, many people were getting henna on…


Photo: Rhett Allain

I want to explain this cool problem, but I want to sort of give a rough outline of how to get there. It’s useful to see where things start and where they end up.

Point Masses

When you start off in your physics course, you use point masses. Oh, you don’t necessarily call them point masses — but that’s what they are. When you model a block sliding down a plane, it’s a point. When you toss a ball — yup, that’s a point.


Explosive Pipe

Image: CBS/MacGyver

Mac and Riley need to escape from a server room. Bozer finds an old exit that’s covered up by a wall — but MacGyver needs to blow up the wall. He takes two cans of disinfectant and jams them into a short segment of pipe. There’s also two wires in there to provide a spark.

When a voltage is applied to the two wires, it makes a spark and this spark ignites the mixture of spray and air. Boom. This is your basic version of a potato gun — but without the potato.

Since both ends of…


Photo: Rhett Allain

You’ve already had this conversation 1000 times. I know. It happens when you are sitting around with your friends and debating about a battle between Darth Vader and Spider-Man. Don’t worry, we all do this. It’s what makes science fiction and fantasy so much fun.

So, here’s the question. Which superheroes have the most realistic powers? Yes, there are many that are just complete fantasy (but that doesn’t make them less fun). Magic users and shape shifters are pretty difficult to explain with science — maybe that’s why they are so cool. However, some stuff can have a scientific explanation.


Photo: Rhett Allain

I’m continuing to work on explanations for the Randal Munroe book How To — Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems (Penguin Press). Basically, it’s a book that just has a ton of fun answering weird questions with some cool cartoons.

There is a chapter about scoring in an NFL football game. One idea is to just use a horse and literally plow through the opposing team. It’s just like a scene from Lord of the Rings with a horse running through a sea of orcs. Honestly, I can’t remember exactly which movie this was.

So, here’s the stuff from…

Rhett Allain

Physics faculty, science blogger of all things geek. Technical Consultant for CBS MacGyver and MythBusters. Former WIRED blogger.

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