MacGyver Season 3 Episode 18 Science Notes: Murdoc + Helman + Hit

There’s really only two MacGyver hacks in this episode—but wait! Don’t be upset, it’s a good thing. First, it happens to be a great episode. Second, when you don’t have a set number of hacks in an episode it just feels like the story uses these hacks rather than revolve around them.

Overall, it was a great episode.

One way mirror.

This wasn’t a MacGyver hack, but it as funny and there is some nice science here. So, what is a one way mirror? Also, Murdoc has a point. Shouldn’t it be a two way mirror? Actually, there are several names for these things:

• One way mirror.
• Two way mirror.
• One way glass.
• Half silvered mirror.
• Semi-transparent mirror.

I guess you can call it whatever you want. But how does it work? There are a few important things to go over. First—how do we see things? Suppose there is a pencil on a table. If you see that pencil, it’s because light reflects off that pencil and then enters your eyes. Here is a diagram (from my post on 5 Things Every Human Should Know About Light).

Second—how does a window work? In the most basic form, a window could just be a piece of glass. When light hits glass, two things happen. Some of the light is transmitted and some of the light is reflected. Yes, this pretty much always happens. OK, I lied. There are some cases where all the light is transmitted and other cases where all is reflected.

I can prove this to you. If you are inside a house on a sunny day, you can see outside but other people can’t see in. The problem is that the outside stuff is so bright that the reflected light is way more than the light coming through (from the inside) and you can’t see it. Here is a diagram (from this old post of mine).

Now back to the “one way mirror”. The key is to have the room with the observers darker than the room with the people you want to watch.

Skateboard with a pulley.

There is a door, but it’s trapped. It’s a trapped-door. Get it? OK, so MacGyver needs to bust this down but without people nearby in case it explodes (it does explode). He takes the battering ram weight and puts it on a skateboard. Then he run some string over a couple of pulleys so that he can get this thing up to speed and smash into the door.

Here is a diagram (from my show notes) to see how you would set this up.

The key to a pulley system is to set it up so that the distance the object moves is different than the distance the person pulls. In fact, this is the key idea to all simple machines (a compound pulley is indeed a simple machine).

In the diagram above, if Mac pulls the bottom pulley (this is a top view) one meter, then there would need to be two meters of string move that way (since the string is doubled over). That means the skate-board and battering ram would move 2 meters for this 1 meter of pull.

Yes, the skate board would move twice as fast as MacGyver. But you don’t get something for nothing. Although he only moves 1 meter for the 2 of the board, there would be twice the force on MacGyver. This is how simple machines work.

Slowing down a car with a winch.

MacGyver grabs the winch on the truck and then jumps to the truck with Murdoc. He wraps the cable around a post and then Oversight slams on the brakes. Both cars stop.

Yes, the friction from the rear truck would indeed slow down the other car (if not stop it). However, since the cable is attached to the side of Murdoc’s truck, the force from the cable will also turn that truck. Once it get’s turn too much, it can’t even drive straight. Now both trucks are essentially sliding with rubber wheel interacting with the road. That’s why it stops.

MacGyver Season 3 Episode 16 Science Notes: LIDAR + Rouges + Duty

What is LIDAR?

Again, this is not a MacGyver-hack. Well, I guess it sort of is a Mac-hack since he designed the LIDAR. So, what is LIDAR? At the most basic level, LIDAR uses a laser to determine the distance to an object. By scanning this laser over some area, you can get a very detailed distance map. If you know the location of the LIDAR (in the aircraft), you get a very nice map of the terrain below.

But how do you get distance with a laser? The laser produces a beam of light (that’s what the “L” stands for in “laser”) and this light travels at a speed of about $3 \times 10^8\text{ m/s}$. Yes, that is super fast. However, it’s not infinitely fast. So when this laser light travels and reflects off of something, it takes time to get back to the LIDAR. The longer it takes to return, the greater the distance. That’s the basic idea of LIDAR.

How do you start a jet engine?

I’m not an aeronautical engineer (in case you didn’t already figure that out). So here is my very simple explanation of a jet engine. The key to getting thrust is the same as a propeller driven aircraft: make the air coming in go faster as it leaves. This increase of air speed (into and out of the engine) means a change in momentum and thus a forward pushing force. For the jet engine, it increases the final speed of the outgoing air by also heating it by burning fuel.

So, how do you start a jet engine? It’s not the same as starting your car (but not completely different either). The main thing is that you need to get the jet turbines spinning first so that there is air moving through the engine. Then you can add the burning fuel to get the thing started. Here is a great video on how this works. Oh, this is why youtube is so nice—you can find a video on pretty much anything.

Pick lock with a paperclip

Oh, you missed this hack—didn’t you. When MacGyver gets into the old building, he has a paperclip in has hand. So, can you pick a lock with a paperclip? Maybe. You could use the paperclip to jiggle the lock pins, but you would need something to apply torque to the lock cylinder.

Here is a tutorial on lock picking—but don’t be a bad guy.

Break open door with a raft

MacGyver pushes open a locked door by filling a raft with water. Let’s start with the definition of pressure. Pressure is a force divided by an area.

Let’s start with the definition of pressure. Pressure is a force divided by an area.

$P=\frac{F}{A}$

You can solve this for the force.

$F=PA$

So, if you have a pressure (in the raft) it will produce a force equal to the product of the pressure and the contact area. The bigger the area, the greater the force. In fact, with just a small pressure you can get a pretty big force.

OK, this is from a previous episode but I still like it. Here is a demonstration in which I use the pressure from my lungs to lift myself. Yes, small pressure with a large area means a significant e force.

What about the water? Well, the water will give the raft more mass so that it doesn’t just push itself away from the door. If you want to open the door with air pressure, you would need to have something hold the raft agains the door.

Dart gun

I love this visual effect where MacGyver is looking around for stuff to build and it shows all the things he sees. In the end, he builds a dart gun that shoots morphine needles.

Really, I just want to talk about two parts of this build—the shooting and the injecting. MacGyver uses a propane tank to shoot the dart. This is the same as your basic potato gun. Compressed gas from the tank push the dart in the tube. The longer the distance of the tube, the greater the final speed of the dart.

For the injection, you can’t just shoot a needle into someone. You need to push that plunger on the back of the needle to get the drug into a body. That’s where the steel spacers come into play. When the front of the dart hits a person, it will stop. However, the mass on the back will want to keep going until a force slows it down. This force comes from the plunger—that means the plunger gets depressed and the bad guys get drugged.

Beam splitter

How do you make one laser look like many lasers? You need a beam splitter. This is exactly what MacGyver does to fool the baddies into thinking there are bunch of other good guys in the woods.

Basically, a beam splitter is a piece of glass. We like to think of glass as being transparent so that light goes right through it—and it does. That’s why we use glass for windows to see stuff outside. But light also reflects off glass. In fact, if the light (from the laser) hits the glass at an angle then you will get both transmission AND reflection.

It doesn’t even need to be glass. Here is a quick demonstration of a beam splitter with just a piece of clear plastic.

MacGyver Season 1 Episode 10 Science Notes: Pliers

Boosting car speed.

Mac and Jack are trying to get away in a car chase (using a not very fast car). Of course MacGyver is going to give them a speed boost, but the first step is to remove the car hood. MacGyver makes some small explosives using chemicals and soda cans. Boom. No more hood.

The second step is to remove the air filter and pour some hydrogen peroxide into the intake. What would this do? This would give the gasoline more oxygen (from the hydrogen peroxide) to produce more combustion. Would this give a speed boost? Probably—at least a little bit.

Chemistry demo – elephant toothpaste.

This is real. Everyone does this—at least all the cool kids do it. You should be cool.

Liquid nitrogen in water

OK, liquid nitrogen is pretty awesome. It’s the same nitrogen that you find in the air, but in liquid form. That makes it very very cold (-196 C). When you add it to room temperature water, the liquid nitrogen boils. In this boiling process it produces a bunch of water vapor—stuff that looks like a cloud.

This was for a different episode, but here is my introduction to liquid nitrogen.

Remote listening device

MacGyver wants to hear what is going on inside a house. The obvious solution is to build a remote listening device. Here’s how it works.

A laser is aimed at a window such that the laser reflects off the window and back to a solar cell. Because people are inside the house speaking, this causes tiny vibrations in the window. The window vibrations vary the intensity of the reflected laser light. When this reflected laser light hits the solar cell, it causes variations in the voltage. Plugging this solar cell into an amplified speaker produces sound. Yes. This is real.

It’s pretty awesome—and you can do something like this yourself. All you need is an amplified speaker and a solar cell (don’t worry about the laser). Connect the solar cell to the audio input and you can hear variations in different light sources.

My favorite trick is to aim a TV remote at the solar cell. You can hear the variations in the IR light that produce different signals to change channels.

Here is a video.

Stop a car with paper

Yup, a version of the banana up the tail pipe from Beverly Hills Cop (great movie). See—everyone is a version of MacGyver at some point.

In this case, MacGyver sticks some paper up the tail pipe of a car. When the exhaust can’t escape, you can’t get internal combustion. Car stops.

Yaghi Antenna

Yes, you can build an antenna out of just about anything—including band instruments. It helps if they conduct electricity. I think this would work.

Technically it’s possible to find the location of a signal with just one antenna (well at least the direction). Just turn the antenna until you get the maximum signal. A better option is to use 2 or more antennas—but you have to work with what you have.

Over inflate tire

Yup. Boom.

Elephant toothpaste version 2

Bigger is better, right? It’s sort of funny.

MacGyver Season 1 Episode 8 Science Notes: Corkscrew

Remember, I’m just going over the MacGyver hacks with science stuff in them.

DIY Blacklight

This one is fairly legit. MacGyver is in an escape room and needs to find a blacklight to read some hidden words on the wall. He says it would be easier to build a blacklight than it would be to find it.

Here is MacGyver’s build. Use a smart phone LED light and an old floppy disk. In theory, this could work. Here is the short answer: most white LED lights work by having an ultraviolet light with a fluorescence coating to produce white light (which is the way the old school tube-like fluorescent lights work). This means that the white LED also produces UV light (also called blacklight). You just need to block out the visible light—and that’s where the floppy disk comes in. If you take the actual disk out of the floppy, some of them block visible light.

I actually wrote a WIRED post on this—here it is.

https://www.wired.com/2016/12/make-uv-light-phones-led-flash/

Fluorescence of stuff on the wall

The second part of this hack is to use the DIY UV light to read the stuff on the wall. Here’s how that works.

Electrified stair rail

A bad guy is getting away and running down a stairwell. MacGyver pulls some wires out of a wall light and touches one of the wires to the rail and the guy gets shocked and falls.

Would this work? Maybe. In order for the guy to get shocked, there has to be a complete electrical circuit that passes through the dude. That means the current would come out of the wall, go to the rail, go to the guy, go OUT of the guy, and then back to the wall.

In order to get through the guy, he would have to be grounded and the rail would have to NOT be grounded. I suspect that building code requires a rail to be grounded for safety—but you never know. In order to get the guy grounded, he would have to stand on conducting ground (like metal) and have terrible shoes.

But still, it’s at least possible.

Hacking magnetic lock

MacGyver is trapped in another room—with essentially nothing in it. He grabs some wire out of the ceiling panels can fishes out the wires for the security pad. Then he manually enters the keypad code by connecting wires.

OK, this could work. However, it if it’s a legit security pad it would probably be harder to hack.

Wine bottle rocket

MacGyver takes some wine bottles, dumps out some of the wine and recorks them. Then he pumps them up and let’s the cork pop out. Now it’s a water bottle rocket.

Here is the launch in slow motion.

Of course like many MacGyver hacks, this is real. The only problem is that it would take a normal person a few minutes to set up and not a few seconds.

MacGyver needs to take out some remote controlled guns. He grabs a CB radio from a truck and hooks it up to a large power supply. This broadcasts enough static to jam the radio signal to the guns.

Let’s go over the details.

• Could he get a CB out of a truck? Yes. Easy (but it wouldn’t be as quick as he does it).
• Could he hook it up to a power supply? I think he used the power lines to some metal crusher. This probably wouldn’t work. The CB runs on DC current and the big power is probably AC. Also, it probably expects 12 volts.
• Would this jam the signal? Here’s where he might get lucky. If the guns run on the same channel as the CB —it would work. If the power supply messes up the radio so that it just somehow broadcasts on a bunch of frequencies—it would work.

So, it’s possible.

Cat in the Hat sits on a throne of Lies!

My kids like books. Especially when they are going to bed. I let my daughter pick a book and she picked “Clam-I-am. All About the BEACH” by Trish Rabe. It is nice, it rhymes. The pictures are pretty. Then I get to this page:

So, the ocean is blue because of the sky? How do you get green oceans? How about brown (I live in Louisiana, trust me – the gulf of Mexico can be brown)? What about when you are underwater, everything looks blue. The best answer to why the ocean is blue is that that is what color does not get absorbed. All colors of light interact with the water. Reds are mostly absorbed, the blue gets scattered.

[Here is a better explanation from the Library of Congress](http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/oceanblue.html).

Would it be so hard to have someone look over the science in a book? I would do it if they asked.