MacGyver Season 1 Episode 11 Science Notes: Scissors

Kill computer stuff with a transformer

How do you get a hacker to do what you want (or tell you want you want)? You start destroying all his electronic stuff. In this case MacGyver uses a transformer to zap some computer equipment.

What is a transformer? It’s basically a coil of wire connected to an AC voltage (like your wall outlet). This AC outlet makes an alternating current in the coil that produces an alternating magnetic field.

Now for the second part of the transformer—another coil. Yes. If you have another coil of wire, the changing magnetic field from the first coil will induce and electric voltage in the second coil. By changing the number of turns in the two coils, you can either increase or decrease the original voltage—or perhaps you could say you “transform” the voltage. Get it?

OK, so MacGyver takes this transformer. With it, he creates a high voltage. The voltage is high enough to make a spark—this is indeed possible.

Next question: how does this spark kill a computer? Well, it’s not the spark but rather the electric current. If you get extra electric current going through the computer stuff, you can destroy those super tiny transistors. They weren’t meant to have much current. Without the transistors, you are pretty much a plain electric toaster.

Scissor Extenders 

MacGyver needs to cut through a cable. It just so happens that this cable is choking someone—so he needs to move quickly. Of course he has scissors on his Swiss Army Knife, but he can’t push hard enough to cut the cable.

This is where the scissor extender comes in. MacGyver gets a long stick and adds it onto the end of the scissor handle. With this long handle, the same pushing force can create a much larger torque on the scissors (torque is the product of force and lever arm). This larger torque is enough to cut through the cable. It’s just like those super long handle sheers that you can use to trim tree branches or those bolt cutters that you can use to cut a chain.

OK, there is one small problem here. One stick might not be that helpful. If you have one long handle and one short handle, then you would have to apply the same torque on the short handle. That would be pretty tough.

Hack a car

This isn’t a “Mac Hack” —but I am going to talk about it anyway. There is a program that can hack into cars and take them over. Sadly, this is partially true. Check out this video from WIRED in which some hackers remotely stop a Jeep. Scary.

Could this be used to take over a nuclear submarine? Well, probably not.

Air Raid Siren

This is classic MacGyver. He creates an air raid siren out of PVC pipe and an AC condenser fan. It would probably work.

I was going to build one of these and make a video, but I didn’t. Here, check this one out instead.

RFID range extender

So, the guys want to use an RFID badge to access a security level in an elevator. MacGyver builds a DIY range extender. This is fairly plausible, but I won’t go over all the details. Instead, I will just share this paper.

Faraday cage

The whole building is a Faraday cage. The basic idea is to create a grounded metal enclosure so that electromagnetic waves can’t penetrate. That means, no phone signals and no wifi outside of the building.

Here is an example of a Faraday cage (from a later episode, but who cares—right?).

Spoof GPS

There is a missile flying towards the USA. That’s bad. MacGyver builds a parabolic dish to act as a GPS spoofer. This could basically work. The signal from the dish could be stronger than the one from orbit and trick the missile into going the wrong way.

Of course, there is one small problem. If the missile is 3000 miles away, you couldn’t get direct-line sight of it unless it was super high. Well, I guess these missiles do go pretty high. Still, it would be hard to aim it.

It’s still plausible.

Artificial snow

How do you make fake snow? One way is to shoot water out of a nozzle at high pressure. When the water leaves the nozzle, it expands and cools off. If it cools off enough, it will freeze and make something that is like snow. These things are real.

But can you make snow above the freezing point? Oh yeah.