TONIGHT: President Obama on MythBusters

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Tonight at 9pm ET/PT: The MythBusters tackle, once and for all, the "Archimedes Solar Ray" myth! Set your DVRs for the Discovery Channel.

Way back in 2004, the MythBusters first tried out the "Archimedes Solar Ray" myth. The myth essentially was (quoting an excellent writeup at The Annotated MythBusters):

Myth: At the seige of Syracuse in 212 BC (during the Second Punic Wars), Archimedes built his 'burning mirrors,' which was an arrangement of mirrors that was capable of focusing a ray of sunshine on approaching ships and setting them aflame.

In 2004, they failed to replicate this effect and called the myth busted. Viewers cried foul, and a group from MIT claimed they had in fact created an array of mirrors that set a boat on fire. So the next year, the MythBusters encouraged various viewers to come on the show and do it themselves -- including the MIT class. Well, as The Annotated MythBusters says, this second series of attempts also failed. (I urge you to read the writeup of this second attempt, as it really is an in-depth essay on the topic.)

But still, the myth would not die. People really, really wanted to see a boat set on fire using mirrors. After all, those MIT folks claimed to have done it! So now, President Obama himself has set the MythBusters on a mission to investigate the myth one last time. Here's a sneak peak:

Obama's involvement is part of his administration's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) awareness initiative. The idea, in brief, is to get STEM careers noticed by students, so they'll consider them when choosing career paths. As someone who actually has a STEM career (when I'm not writing, I'm a software engineer), I think this is awesome. And who better to show off practical applications of science, technology, engineering, and math than Adam and Jamie?

The big question, though, is whether this myth is busted or not! I have seen the episode, but I am sworn to secrecy about it. I can tell you this, though: the MythBusters rallied a huge number of students in order to make the ultimate solar ray, vastly ramping up all previous efforts. Watching Jamie in his solar-proof suit on the trireme, being blasted by mirror reflections, is pretty intense. Watching all those kids directly engaged in a large-scale science experiment is also totally awesome.

After the jump, some more promo shots from the episode. Jamie plays the attacking General Marcellus and Adam plays the Syracusian general urging his defending army to keep the mirrors focused.

MythBusters with students
Part of the Syracusian defending army.

Adam and Jamie with the Trireme
Adam and Jamie with the trireme.

Mirrors aiming at the trireme
The army's assault begins....

Tune in tonight to learn how it all turns out.

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December 8, 2010 - 8:36am
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