MacGyver Season 2 Episode 2 Science Notes: Muscle Car + Paper Clips

What is an EMP?

This is an offensive weapon called an Electromagnetic Pulse (I guess the M is in there too). The idea is to generate a short, but very high intensity electromagnetic wave.

There are all sorts of EMPs, but let’s consider the one that you are mostly likely familiar with—a lightning strike. Have you ever had lightning hit near your house? If you have, you might find that some of your electronic devices no longer work. That sucks, doesn’t it?

Mostly likely what happened was a spike in the electric current in the house. When the lightning strikes, it makes a very large change in magnetic field (associated with the giant current from the bolt). This changing magnetic field can create an electric current.

Check this out. I have a loop of wire and a magnet. As I move the magnet into the loop (or out of it), a current is created.

That’s sort of what happens with your house. But what about the EMP? Same idea—except MORE change in magnetic field. It’s possible to make an EMP that is strong enough to take out the circuits of a bunch of things. Yes, like a plane.

Is it possible to make an EMP that’s handheld? Yes, that’s possible—but it wouldn’t be super strong. Bigger is better.


I had no idea that “the thing” existed—at least not until the awesome MacGyver writers told me about it. I read the script and said.

What. What? WHAT? Is this real? How did I not know about this? What the heck!

The Thing is a cold war era spy device. It was a passive listening device that the Soviets hid in a wood carving of The Great Seal. You can’t make this stuff up—it’s too real.

The basic device consists of a conducting cavity with a membrane. When a particular microwave frequency is aimed at the device, sound will move the membrane and change the reflected wave. The change in the reflection will be interpreted at sound. This site has a much more detailed explanation.

OK, but could MacGyver build one? Yes. Especially in the Phoenix lab. Honestly, I was going to build one for fun. However, it’s tricky to get the size and stuff just right in order for it to work. It would be fun to build a working model though.

Hackable cars.

Sadly, this is all too real. Yes, you can indeed hack a car.

Older cars don’t have computers in them. You can’t hack plain metal and gasoline.

Pacemaker from a phone and an amplifier.

Could you hack someone’s pacemaker? Probably not—but it’s at least possible. My first guess is that you wouldn’t have any type of network connection on your pacemaker, but maybe you would. What if you want to modify how it works without actually taking it out of the human body? In that case, you would have to communicate with the pacemaker somehow—right?

OK, so the dude got hack. He needs a temporary pacemaker. MacGyver takes some paperclips to use as electrodes and connects them to the car’s audio amplifier. He then generates a 1.7 Hertz audio signal with his phone. The idea is that the audio “sound” generates electrical signals that stimulate the heart into work.

Would this actually work? Maybe? Honestly, I wouldn’t want to try this in real life.