Visitors to COSI over the next few months will get a glimpse into the world of myths, movie moments and urban legends – and the men and women who prove or disprove them.
MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition opens June 8. The exhibition was designed over the course of about five years with a great deal of help from the MythBusters themselves, the hosts of an eponymous show on the Discovery Channel.
It offers a combination of innovative displays, hands-on experiments and live demonstrations on such topics as combustion, flight, friction, gravity and speed.
MythBuster Grant Imahara is a trained scientist with a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California who works in the creatively demanding field of film and television. Beyond his work on MythBusters, for which he is most frequently recognized, he has also had a hand in such blockbuster film franchises as Jurassic Park, Star Wars and The Matrix.
He’s logical and intuitive, analytical and thoughtful, subjective and objective at the same time. He uses both sides of his brain at once, and while traditional careers usually favor either creativity or logic, great leaps in understanding our world have come from individuals who can use all of their capabilities. Think Isaac Newton and his apple or Thomas Edison’s light bulb.
Imahara’s first robot was a swinging mechanism that cut a sword with another sword. It was used in memorable scenes in Kill Bill and The Three Musketeers – an accomplishment maybe not on par with the scientific greats, but sharing the distinction of innovation nonetheless, as it had never been done before.
“Every robot I make for MythBusters starts with some task that has to be accomplished, such as throwing a baseball at superhuman speed,” Imahara says.
For the real problems in our world – creating sustainable energy sources, say, or making cars more efficient – both logical analysis and freedom to play are necessary, he says.
Imahara has a two-pronged approach to his work: He imagines the problem extensively, then tackles it at a workbench.
Because of the limited production schedule on MythBusters, the design phase, “the kind of ‘noodling it over in my brain phase,’ is the longest part,” he says. There is limited time for prototypes, so he tries to think the process completely through before he orders materials. Then he heads to the work bench.
“There’s a tremendous value to actually physically laying hands onto a tool or a material,” he says. “It’s something you don’t get from sitting at a computer or watching it on the Internet. It’s physically interacting with these tools and materials that really gives you a sense of how they work. … I really have to physically handle something in order to get a really good grasp of it. To make it real for me, I need to sort of play with it.”
There’s no other way to create his robots and devices.
“These are things that no one has done before, so there is no playbook that I can go to, no recipe book that I can consult,” Imahara says.
Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition offers visitors the opportunity to interact with the experiments Imahara – along with fellow MythBusters Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman, Tory Belleci and Kari Byron – has done on the show.
“I think … having that opportunity really lends itself to learning in a way that you just can’t get by simply watching the show or reading about it in a book,” Imahara says. “You get that physical experience, and that’s what sticks.”
Imahara hopes the exhibition will help patrons to use both sides of their brain. That skill has helped him make impressive achievements and led to opportunities such as updating one of the iconic Star Wars robots for use in the series’ prequel trilogy on the request of Lucasfilm.
“That was a mind-blowing experience,” Imahara says. “I ended up updating all the electronics because those units had been used for filming in the mid-1980s, so there was a lot of room for improvement.”
He made the functions and movements more reliable and efficient, “which is always helpful in a shooting situation.” To this day, Imahara is one of a dozen or so elite engineers certified to work on R2D2.
His daily grind on MythBusters is mind-blowing to his viewers also, whose requests continue to drive the crew to work on such endeavors as fitting a nitrogen cannon into an SUV.
“I like to say that we cleverly wrap our science with car crashes and explosions,” he says, “but at its core, you still have that strong science element, and I think that’s the magic of our show.”
MythBusters premiered on the Discovery Channel in 2003. Its mission: to uncover the truth behind popular myths with a mixture of scientific method, gleeful curiosity and old-fashioned ingenuity.
A myth tested on the show can garner one of three results: Confirmed, Plausible or Busted.
Cindy Gaillard is the Executive Producer of WOSU Public Media’s Emmy Award-winning program ArtZine. Find new episodes on Facebook.