MacGyver Science: Golden Lancehead + Venom + Pole vault + Blood + Baggage

I’ll be honest — there’s a lot of biochemistry in this one and I’m just a physicist.

Could Snake Venom Be Used for Cancer Treatment?

This is really the key point in this episode. MacGyver is collecting snake venom (with his DIY jar and plastic membrane) to be used for research. So, is this even legit?

Yes — it’s true that snake venom can be used in medicine. It’s really crazy if you think about it. Something that is normally dangerous can be used to heal.

Pole Vaulting

The key to pole vaulting is to use your horizontal velocity to give you vertical height. At the most basic level, it’s about conservation of energy. Suppose you are running as at 7 m/s. This means that you have kinetic energy, where kinetic energy can be calculated as:

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What if you could convert all of this kinetic energy into a change in gravitational potential energy? The change in gravitational potential is defined as:

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Oh, where “g” is the local gravitational constant. Setting these two equal and solving for the height (change in y):

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So, with a 7 m/s run (15.7 mph)— that would get you up to a height of 2.5 meters (about 8 feet). But how do you make this conversion? That’s where the bendy pole comes in handy. When the pole flexes, it allows the horizontal motion to be redirected to a vertical motion.

Would a PVC pipe work? Maybe. If you get one that has walls that are quite thin, it will be nice and bendy — but it could also break if bent too far. Maybe a thicker pipe could work.

Smoke Detector Snake Repellent

Snakes don’t actually have ears.

However, they can still feel stuff. Snakes have feelings too. If you put a smoke detector on the floor, then this beeping noise will vibrate the floor. The snake CAN feel this vibration.

Ionizing Radiation and Snake Venom

Could ionizing radiation do something to snake venom? Well, maybe. But what is ionizing radiation anyway?

OK, actually there are two parts of ionizing radiation — first, what is radiation? Unfortunately we call radiation one of two things. It could be some type of electromagnetic wave (radio wave, visible light, ultra violet, x-rays…etc). But radiation could also be some type of particle that is emitted from a nucleus — like ejected electrons or anti-electrons. But that’s radiation.

What about the “ionizing” part? This is some radiation that has enough energy to eject electrons from an atom or molecule. When that happens, the molecule becomes ionized.

So, it is possible that ionizing radiation could make the venom more acidic? I think it’s plausible.

DIY Expanding Foam

Expanding foam is pretty cool stuff (and super useful). However, it’s not so trivial to make on you own. Most versions of expanding foam use the following two ingredients: isocyanate and polyol resin. But where are you going to find these in an airport? Good luck with that.

So, this is what MacGyver used:

  • Nail polish remover. This is usually acetone with maybe some other stuff.
  • Shaving cream. Hopefully the shaving cream could have some of the isocyanante — used in foams.
  • Glue. The glue could give the foam a hardening strength.

It’s at least plausible.

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

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