The Science of Sustainability

Behind the Scenes with the Mythbusters

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A touching Mythbusters family portrait: Jamie Hyneman (L), Adam Savage (R), and (what's left of) the original Buster.

(Editor's note: We have a guest blogger this week, KQED's Michael Kadel who accompanied us on a visit to our explosive San Francisco neighbors, the Mythbusters.)

Once one strays from Public Broadcasting into the abyss of cable TV, it's easy to find one's self without any thoughtful, science-based content in sight. For fans of NOVA and KQED's QUEST, there is one little island of knowledge in the sea of commercial programming, the Discovery Channel's MythBusters. I recently got the chance to visit the set and talk to Jamie and Adam about myth busting.

M5, Jamie Hyneman's company and the warehouse and build-set for MythBusters, is truly a sight to behold. The walls and ceilings are festooned with creations from both the show and from Jamie's years of prototyping and special effects work. The pneumatic shark hangs from the ceiling above a more recent piece – the windshield from this season's Soda Cup Killer. Moving away from the back wall of the warehouse I saw the remote controlled tank treads from the "improved" 7Up vending machine, the duct tape boat, and the jetpack from way back in episode 32. Beyond the cool factor of being on the set of one of my favorite shows, what really struck me was the engineering prowess and innate understanding of physics that Jamie and his co-host Adam Savage possess. They were nice enough to talk to Craig Rosa and I during their lunch break from filming the show.

I asked them if the Bay Area was a good place to film the MythBusters, and as with most things, there is an upside and a downside. California is very particular about what can be set on fire, spilled, exploded, or shot into pieces, and as a result quite a bit of paperwork can stand between an idea and an segment actually coming to fruition.

California's regulations are strict to protect our wide-ranging environmental resources. On the other hand, as Adam related, those very resources are one of the huge upsides to filming here. "We have every climate we could want within a day's drive from snowy mountains, to clear water, to high desert, low desert, rain forest. And we've utilized that, we've done a tremendous amount of shooting within a 3, 4, or 5 hour drive." Northern California's other great resource, as Adam puts it, is the "brain trust of the Bay Area." They've formed great relationships with the doctors and scientists at UCBerkeley, UCSF, Stanford, NASA Ames, and JPL as well as the surround law enforcement agencies including the Alameda Sheriff's department, South San Francisco Police Department, and just about every fire department within a 50 mile radius of San Francisco. The community support and available knowledge of the Bay Area has been a huge boon for the show.

Mythbusters is in its 8th season on the Discovery channel. So if you've ever wondered how best to lose a following car during a high-speed chase tune in to MythBusters Spy Car Escape on April 7th.
If you find you are more often stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge and less often pursued by a spy you may also be interested in QUEST's upcoming April 6th episode which delves into the technology that will help the new Bay Bridge withstand the next "big one."

But enough words, let's see some photos. See below for a behind-the-scenes photo tour of the M5 facility:

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Category: Engineering, Physics

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About the Author ()

Craig Rosa is KQED's Senior Interactive Producer for Science & Environment. Prior to joining KQED in October of 2006, he spent 11 years with The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, where he worked to create innovative educational visitor experiences online and within the museum space. He was also responsible for the museum's Information Services operations. He began his informal science interpretation career at the Brooklyn Children's Museum as an Assistant Exhibit Developer and Greenhouse Program Coordinator. Craig has a B.A. in World Arts and Cultures from UCLA, and an M.A. in Performance Studies from New York University.