MacGyver Season 4 Episode 10 Science Notes: Tesla + Bell + Edison + Mac

I think there is a ton of great history with Tesla, Bell and Edison. I know some stuff, but not enough to really go all into the details. Really, I’m just letting myself know so I will look into this later.

Lightbulb Bomb

Not a Mac-hack since this was from Tesla, and not MacGyver. It’s not exactly clear what he does—but in the end he ends up with a type of flash bang. Really, he could put something explosive inside the glass but he would need some type of ignition on impact. The most likely choice would to use something that requires air. It’s possible he could put gasoline in the bulb along with the hot filament. It might not ignite without the proper amount of oxygen. Then when it hits the ground—flash bang.

Carbon Scrubber

MacGyver is clearly bothered about all the apocalypse stuff—climate change included. So, the solution is to fix the climate. Of course the problem is that humans burn fossil fuels to get some of our energy. These fossil fuels produces a chemical reaction with the oxygen in the air to produce energy—with carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Oh, but guess what—carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. This means that it when the sun shines on the Earth, it warms up and reradiates infrared radiation. The CO2 blocks this infrared light and warms up the atmosphere even more. See. I just explained global warming in one paragraph.

After MANY years of burning fossil fuels, humans (yes, that’s us) have increased the concentration of CO2 from 300 ppm (parts per million) to 400 ppm. What is a ppm? Suppose you were able to count 1 million molecules of air (which is about 79 percent nitrogen (N2)). Of these million molecules, 400 would be carbon dioxide. That doesn’t seem like much, but it’s enough to increase the temperature of the atmosphere. This temperature increase can actually produce EVEN more CO2—so it’s a big deal.

MacGyver’s plan is to design a cheap and low power device that removes CO2 from the atmosphere. Most of the known methods for carbon dioxide removal revolve around a chemical process. You pass air (with the CO2) through some type of system with a chemical inside. The carbon dioxide reacts with the chemical so that it’s no longer in the air. The next step is to get the carbon dioxide out of the chemical so that it can be reused. Then you have to store the CO2 somehow (maybe underground).

This is a pretty tough process to be of large enough magnitude to make a difference with the atmosphere. Of course there is another way to get carbon dioxide out of the air—plants. Things like trees. Trees use the carbon dioxide from the air and pull out the carbon to make more tree stuff. They then release the oxygen so that we can use it to breath. It’s a nice system.

Tesla Coil

The Tesla coil is a device to produce extremely high voltages—and at high voltages you can get those really cool sparks.

The basic idea is to start with an alternating electrical current (AC). This goes through a coil of wire to produce a changing magnetic field. Another coil is in the presence of this changing magnetic field such that it induces a voltage. With a proper choice of coils and tuning capacitors, you can start with a low voltage and produce a high voltage. That’s the Tesla coil.

Oh, in this case MacGyver fixes a broken capacitor to get it to work. They then use that to shock a bunch of people. Although these things can shoot out huge sparks, they don’t usually have very high currents. It’s possible to make a dangerous Tesla coil, it really just depends on the design and the output current.

Camera Obscura

This is a real thing—and it’s awesome. I need to make a video to show you how to build one of these. I will indeed do that soon.

The word “camera obscura” literally means “dark room”. Yes, a camera was originally a room. The whole thing is based on the light from a pinhole—a tiny hole.

Suppose I have an object with light reflecting off it from the Sun. Maybe it’s a red ball. Normally, this light would reflect off the ball and then enter your eye so that you could “see” it. But what happens if this light passes through a tiny hole instead? Actually, I’m going to change the object to a large arrow (so that you distinguish the top from the bottom). So, let’s say that there is the giant arrow, a pinhole and then a screen. It might look like this.

Yes, you get an upside down image on a screen from that tiny pinhole. But since the hole is so small, the image is very dim (not much light can get through the hole). The only way to see that image is to make sure the rest of the room is dark—super dark. But there you have it, a dark room—a camera obscura.

Update: I made a pinhole camera for you.

Wine bottle trick

How do you remove a cork from a wine bottle without a cork screw? This is like a classic party question. For MacGyver, he uses fire. By wrapping the bottle with a cloth and then lighting the cloth on fire, the air under the cork increases in temperature. With an increase in temperature, the pressure of the air increases and pushes the cork out.

I think this is real.

But it’s probably not the best way to get a cork out. Also, it doesn’t matter if this would really work or not since it’s just in MacGyver’s head.

Flammable Iron

Is iron flammable? First, I have to say something about the word “flammable”. There are two word: flammable and inflammable. Both words mean the same thing. The original word was “inflammable”—it means that something is able to be inflamed. Of course many people confused the meaning of this word to think it says “can not be flamed”. So, people now use “flammable” to avoid confusion.

But is iron inflammable (see what I did there)? Yes, sort of. If you get the iron started, there will be a chemical reaction between the iron and oxygen that produces energy—this is pretty much the definition of burning. However, if you take an iron nail it won’t work. The interaction with the air only takes place on the surface of the nail—but the whole nail would have to heat up. If you have a very tiny piece of iron, then the ratio of surface area to volume is much larger such that you can get a noticeable reaction.

Faraday and Generators

Faraday’s Law basically says the following: If you have a changing magnetic field, it creates an electric field. An electric field inside of an electrical conductor—like a copper wire, will produce an electric current.

A hand crank generator takes a magnet and spins it near a coil of wire (or it spins the wire near the magnet—it doesn’t matter). This produces an electrical current. This EXACT same process is used in just about every kind of electrical power plant. The only difference between a nuclear power plant and a wind turbine is the thing that turns the turbine.

What about this Tesla Weapon?

Can you shoot out lightning from a weapon? Well, it’s technically possible but highly unlikely. Normally you would need TWO points to create an electrical arc—one at a high potential and one at low (or ground). So, for the Tesla weapon, it’s possible you could make a big spark to something that is electrically connected to the ground, but not just out into the air.

What about the metal in the bad guy’s kevlar vests? This device looks like it’s mostly high voltage and low current. You need high electrical current to make a magnetic field—even then, it would be pretty tough to interact with some objects (you would need super high current).

OK, it is possible that the vests would have some metal plating in them. But kevlar is basically a type of plastic.

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