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MythBusters By Thomas Guengerich

Right: Tory Belleci, Adam Savage, Kari Byron, Grant Imahara and Jamie Hyneman, the stars of MythBusters. Click for bigger picture.

SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 16, 2008 – New Mexico Tech is enjoying a streak of media attention this year, with a handful of cable and network TV shows visiting campus.

Good Morning America filmed a segment at the university’s training facility in Playas in September. Jeopardy! aired video clues filmed in Socorro on Tuesday, Oct. 14. A new Discovery Channel show, Belly of the Beast” filmed two explosions and several interviews about tank armor last week. The new mini-series, Man Vs. Cartoon, was filmed all summer and will air in January 2009.

All of campus is abuzz because one of the most popular cable TV series, MythBusters, spent a week in Socorro filming two myths. Produced by Beyond Productions of Australia, the show features engineers and special effects experts testing popular myths and legends.

The entire cast and crew from MythBusters visited campus, filming several explosions and all the preparations. The cast filmed a high-speed collision and detonated a huge explosion as part of their mythbusting.

“One of the great things about MythBusters is that it’s inspired children to become interested in science, math and education,” said Dr. Van Romero, Vice President of Research and Economic Development at Tech. “Plus, during filming we discovered that MythBusters has a true cult following among New Mexico Tech students, which really isn’t too surprising.”

MythBusters

Right: Tech employees and MythBusters examine the remains of a high-speed collision Wednesday, Oct. 1, at the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center at New Mexico Tech. From left are Jason Metzger, Julian Armijo, Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman and Mike Stanley. Adam and Jamie are the stars of the show.

At a recent campus forum, students had a series of questions about the MythBusters visit. In addition to wanting information about the filming, students were also interested to know if the show would return and if the stars might be willing to speak to students.

The subject matter of the two myths remains classified until the show hits the air. Suffice it to say that the two main cast members – Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage – were testing a complicated urban myth about what happens when two trucks collide.

To answer the question, the duo used New Mexico Tech’s sled track, operated by Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, to simulate the collision between two semis at ultra-high speeds.

“We delivered a collision using rockets,” Romero said. “This was challenging for us because we used the heaviest test article we’ve ever used on the sled track.”

The test was dramatic, but the only way to find out if that myth was busted will be to watch the show in May. Hyneman said he was impressed with the expertise of the Tech crew.

MythBusters

Left: Tech employees and MythBusters examine the remains of a high-speed collision Wednesday, Oct. 1, at Tech's EMRTC. From left are Tech vice president Dr. Van Romero, MythBuster Adam Savage and EMRTC assistant director Mike Stanley.

The MythBusters cast typically builds experiments using their own wits and ingenuity. At Tech, they had the luxury of working with an entire crew of experts.

“Any question I had or test I was interested in they had already a great deal of experience with, and had gone into in great depth,” Hyneman said. “Not that there isn't always more to learn, but if it had to do with explosives, these people had it nailed, and if the answer was not on the tip of the tongue they knew someone that did have it. Over the years we have been producing MythBusters we have done quite a range of testing of highly energetic materials and processes using weapons and explosives and yet we felt like rank amateurs after poking around EMRTC for a bit.”

MythBusters coordinating producer Linda Wolkovitch said the rocket sled test will be part of a special two-hour episode, most likely to air in May.

“The two-hour special is our biggest show of the year,” she said. “We can devote more time to these stories editorially because they are big, giant, impressive stories.”

Graduate student Graham Walsh led the volunteer effort to set up the test. He rounded up a handful of fellow students – mostly undergraduates – to do the dirty work.

“It was a good experience,” Walsh said. “They do unique and interesting tests, which are fun to set up. This is testing that we don’t see every day, so it presented some interesting logistical challenges.”

The student volunteers were Trevor Beach, Zahra Ghanbari, Toby Hartman, Drew Prichard, Shaun Geerts and Kerri Harvey. None of the students will appear on camera, Walsh said. Those students, plus more who work at EMRTC, did all the unglamorous work that nobody else wanted to do, he said.

MythBusters has different needs than a typical customer that simply wants data,” Walsh said. “The MythBusters crew wants to be involved in the entire setting-up process and be a part of everything.”

Several EMRTC staff members were instrumental in producing the shows, including Mike Stanley, Jason Metzger, Julian Armijo, Daniel Gallegos, Darryl Cases, Tony Zimmerly and Brad Bohling. Jamie and Adam filmed their preparations in an EMRTC lab with Stanley and his crew.

The second cast – Kari Byron, Tori Belleci and Grant Imahara – filmed a segment for an episode the subject of which is also being kept a closely guarded secret but the result was extraordinary as they detonated the biggest explosion that has ever been seen on the show!

“Graham developed a small-scale technique,” Romero said. “This technique allowed the MythBusters to do it themselves using readily available materials.”

Kari, Tory and Grant filmed an interview with Romero outside Skeen Library, which will serve as an introduction to the test. The trio also filmed much of the preparations in a Jones Hall lab with Walsh. That segment will most likely air during an episode in April 2009.

Wolkovitch was effusive with her praise for Tech’s facilities, people, capabilities and hospitality.

MythBusters

Left: Tech employees and MythBusters examine the remains of a high-speed collision Wednesday, Oct. 1, at Tech's EMRTC. From left are Tech vice president Dr. Van Romero, MythBuster Adam Savage and EMRTC assistant director Mike Stanley.

“We were so thrilled with the entire shoot,” she said. “As we say in Australia, we were ‘gobsmacked.’ We were absolutely amazed with the facilities. We want to build a special relationship between MythBusters and New Mexico Tech and we look forward to coming back.”

“To top that off, they were downright friendly,” Hyneman said. “We had a great time there, felt safe at all times – they even warned us at length about the rattlers – and were continuously impressed at the depth of their knowledge.”

The MythBusters crew has called on New Mexico Tech expertise twice in 2007 – both times for help with explosives. In an episode about surfing waves created by underwater explosions, Romero and Walsh helped set up an explosion. Later, the same pair helped create underwater explosions inside a faux shark. In both cases, New Mexico Tech helped bust the myths on location in California.

Romero was a consultant for the shark episode and appeared in the episode about surfing the waves.

“I went to San Francisco and appeared on that show as an expert,” Romero said. “While I was there, I said, “Gee, you ought to come out to New Mexico Tech sometime’. They typically use a quarry in Northern California and an old airstrip in Alameda for their explosions, but they can only do a few hundred pounds of explosives. I told them that if they want to do a really big explosion, they need to come to Socorro.”

That’s exactly what they did.

– NMT –