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Former MythBusters talk science, legacy of the show

Former “Mythbusters” costars Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage speak with moderator OSU professor John Beacom as part of an OUAB event in the Ohio Union. Credit: Courtesy of Nick DaLonzo

On Monday, OUAB presented a talk to a sold-out crowd featuring the former co-hosts of Discovery’s television series “MythBusters,” Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage. The event, titled “Don’t Try This at Home!,” was moderated by physics and astronomy professor John Beacom in a question-and-answer format.

Despite the scientific nature of the show, the duo said neither of them had a scientific background before “MythBusters” aired. Hyneman earned a degree in Russian linguistics from Indiana University, and has worked as an animal wrangler, boat captain, chef and machinist before finding work in special effects in the film industry. Savage worked as an animator, carpenter, toy designer and gallery owner before working with Hyneman to design props for commercials.

Savage said the concept of the show was the perfect marriage of his love for design and his passion for acting.

“When ‘MythBusters’ arrived, it put the creator of things together with the performer in me in a way that I’m still pleasantly shocked by,” he said.

Savage revealed even though he and Hyneman do not get along on a personal level, their contrasting personalities created a foil that drove the success of the show’s narrative.

“The disparity in our temperament is interesting because we used that as a tool,” Hyneman said.

The duo worked together for 14 years on Mythbusters and for 10 years prior on commercials, but consider their relationship solely a work partnership.

“We come from different backgrounds, have completely different personalities and still can be ourselves on camera,” Savage said. “I am not above putting on a costume and falling on my ass for entertainment!”

The pair highlighted some of the wackiest, most dangerous experiments conducted during “MythBusters’” run. A brief video clip during the event displayed some of the experiments in which trials produced explosions that were much bigger than the show’s crew anticipated, such as an episode where 500 lbs. of explosives produced a shock wave powerful enough to shatter windows in the town of Esparto, California.

Savage and Hyneman also took time to reflect on their most rewarding experiments. Hyneman recalled an experiment in an earlier season where he and Savage put the idiom “going down like a lead balloon” to the test, designing and executing a giant balloon made of lead foil. Savage said occasional tears in the foil pointed to the near-failure of the experiment, but ultimately they filled the balloon with enough helium to get it to float.

“That experiment represents the purest solving a problem and developing a methodology,” Hyneman said. “I saw the future for myself because I had forced myself to walk through that entire scientific process.”

Beacom said that the show’s message of applying empirical research to common myths and legends still has real-world applications — and lauded Savage and Hyneman for the popularization of everyday science. Beacom awarded the pair honorary doctorate degrees in physics in light of the show’s impact on the STEM community at Ohio State.

“I’ve taught thousands of students at OSU, but (Jamie and Adam) are reaching millions,” Beacom said. “They inspire our younger generations to think more like scientists, and I think the fact that the event was a sell-out definitely speaks to that.”

Savage and Hyneman concluded the talk with a call to action that encouraged curiosity among young people, and that students should not always believe everything they hear.

“False news that propagates is clearly dangerous,” Savage said. “In a world that developed through the course of the show, it slowly dawned on us that we were contributing to developing methodologies in debunking these falsehoods.”

Hyneman’s advice to the crowd was that not everyone is on a linear path; rather, his side projects propelled him to success.
“If you’re on too linear of a path in education, there’s no stable structure,” Hyneman said. “The random experiences I’ve had in life have sort of built a foundation of knowledge, and that’s certainly worked for us.”

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