04 February 2010

MacGyvering

In the depth of my myrm-mania a few weeks ago, Chris recommended an episode of MacGyver where Mac goes into the jungles of the Amazon to battle an army of flesh-eating ants. I had never seen an episode of MacGyver, but Chris has trouble remembering what he had for breakfast this morning so I figured if he was recounting details of a TV show that hasn't been on the air for twenty years it must be something special. CBS has every episode of MacGyver available to watch streaming on their website so I checked it out. The episode is called Trumbo's World, and when I watched it last week I had no idea what I had been missing. It's like Rockford Files (of which I've seen every episode) meets Bill Nye the Science Guy. The streaming quality was poor so I Netflixed it immediately.

In the series pilot, we see MacGyver at his home which is INSIDE of Griffith Observatory apparently. Mac is asked to help rescue some scientists from an underground lab where they have been trapped by a mysterious explosion. The venture turns out scientifically iffy, with Mac breaking open his binoculars to refocus a laser security system on itself, destroying it. He uses the lenses to reflect the light, which is immediately suspect. They should refract the light, not reflect it. In fact I could imagine that if he really tried this the light would be refracted and intensified and maybe even burn a hole through his hand. Come on MacGyver!

But later Mac did something pretty cool. Stumbling on a destroyed vending machine he pocketed several chocolate bars that he conveniently used later to plug an acid leak. He just stuffs the bars in there and the leak heals itself. The sulfuric acid, he explains to his admiring female companion, reacted to the sugar in the chocolate. Wow.

Is this really possible? Luckily I don't have to set up an experiment because the Mythbusters did it for me already. They stuffed chocolate into an acid leak and sure enough it stopped up. Pretty impressive.

I always can remember the chemical structure of sulfuric acid because of a rhyme a classmate taught me in fifth grade:

Johhny was a chemist's son,
But Johnny is no more.
For what he thought was H2O,
Was H2SO4

Sugar is C12H22O11. I had to look that up to check, it's not off the top of my head. The sulfuric acid "dehydrates" the sugar, meaning it pulls water molecules (H20) out of the sugar molecules, leaving carbon behind:

C12H22O11 + H2SO4 → 12 C + 11 H2O


For MacGyver the carbon and the chocolate formed a kind of putty that stopped up the leak. According to the unofficial MacGyver handbook, there was probably too much acid leaking out with too much force for this to be enough to stop the leak, but I don't see any calculations or data backing up this claim. I think further research is needed before any inferences can be made with confidence.

1 comment:

Karina Buck said...

I think Howard Brock was an editor on McGuyver the first season... as Lucas next time you see him.