Science Wednesday: President Obama, The Mythbusters, and Archimedes

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

On tonight’s episode of Mythbusters (9pm ET/PT, The Discovery Channel), the Mythbusters are tackling a myth they’ve already tested not once, but twice. Why try again? Well, the President of the United States asked them.

The Myth: Archimedes Solar Ray

The story goes that, in 212 BC during the Second Punic Wars, Archimedes was able to set a ship on fire by reflecting the light from the sun off of 500 polished shields and focusing it on the enemy ship.

The Challenge: Set a ship on fire using only the focused power of the sun.

The Mythbusters tested the story in 2004, and declared the myth a bust – no fire. However, enough people said it could be done, and that they had done it, that in 2005 the show tested the story again. Still no fire.

So why did President Obama ask the Mythbusters to attempt Archimede’s Solar Ray for a third time? STEM.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is an education initiative dedicated to helping and encouraging children to excel in science and math that the president’s administration supports. It might seem funny to include a show famous for blowing things up in the tools used to increase scientific literacy, interest and success in science and math, but The Mythbusters are sneaky – using the scientific method is the backbone of every myth, question and story they explore.

The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center isn’t quite so sneaky. Our mission is to create meaningful opportunities for people of all ages to learn, reflect and have fun through hands-on and collections-based explorations of science and culture, and STEM plays a role. Our programs, from Starlab Planetarium shows to Meet the Animals and Science Surprise, follow the STEM guidelines for informal education. We’re dedicated to helping to build a STEM-literate and STEM-excited community and, we promise, you’ll have fun, too!

In tonight’s episode, President Obama and the Mythbusters will use the help of 500 primary, middle and high school students with mirrors to test Archimedes’ Solar Ray once again. What do you think, will they succeed in setting a boat on fire?

Students aim their mirrors

And for your next scientific ventures, be sure to check out the museum’s calendar for fun upcoming events.

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