Former Mythbuster Discussed USS Hornet from Stem to Stern
The USS Hornet Museum held its “STEM to Stern” event on May 20 to promote science, technology and mathematics (STEM). The event featured Jamie Hyneman, the former co-host of the popular Discovery Channel series, Mythbusters.
The show represented a rare public appearance for Hyneman, who has continued working alone on experimental technology for clients, ever since Mythbusters last aired in March 2016.
Sporting his signature beret, Hyneman walked onto the stage to the applause of a full crowd, following a video montage of the numerous explosions orchestrated on Mythbusters. On stage, Hyneman joined co-panelists Brian Fies, a science educator, and Chuck Myers, a former Navy Lieutenant with experience on aircraft carriers.
The panel discussed various components of the USS Hornet and of ships in general, such as electrical circuiting, the catapult system and navigation. Afterward, the floor opened up to questions from the audience.
Whenever relevant, Hyneman re-clarified complex science concepts using analogies. He sees his true strength in translating science into something people can understand. When explaining how the Hornet’s catapult system catches a landing plane, he compared the plane to a tractor-trailer hitting the ship’s deck at 120 miles per hour.
“If you said [the plane] weighs 35 tons, no one knows how much 35 tons is,” said Hyneman. “But if you said it weighs as much an 18-wheeler, everyone knows how big that is.”
Attendees for the event came from far and wide. Dave Tambling, a youngster from Menlo Park, attending with his family, said he learned a few new facts from the presentation. “I didn’t know how powerful the catapult system was.”
Tanner Aldrich from Reno, another youngster in the audience, enjoyed hearing about Hyneman’s experience as a wilderness survival guide. “I’m interested in studying environmental science,” said Aldrich.
Hyneman headlined the event as a favor to the USS Hornet Museum, after the museum allowed for him to test recent technology he is currently developing for the US Navy. Further details on this technology is classified.
In the past, his show made Alameda famous as the go-to location of the Mythbusters’s large-scale stunts, which made use of the open spaces of Alameda Point.
However, Hyneman has a more personal connection to the Island City. It all started in another island on the other side of the country--St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 1984, he owned a sailboat charter company there. Through this venture, he met his wife Eileen Walsh, who ran a diving charter business and frequently contracted with Hyneman’s company to take tourists on diving expeditions.
After marrying and living on a boat, the two decided to return to the mainland and start more stable careers. He decided to enter the special effects industry, and she decided to return to college to get a biology degree.
As Hyneman set up his special effects company M5 Industries in San Francisco, Walsh applied for a job in Alameda, as a substitute biology teacher at Encinal High School, eventually moving to full-time. According to Hyneman, she chose Alameda due to it being a smaller school district, and one she felt more supported as a teacher.
Although a resident of San Francisco, Hyneman found himself in Alameda often shooting for Mythbusters. “There’s something charming about Alameda,” said Hyneman, “I’ve always enjoyed going there.”
Hyneman fondly remembers when the commute between San Francisco and Alameda was only twenty minutes each direction. According to him, Bay Bridge traffic has particularly spiked in the past eight years, and so he often resorts to public transit.
“I realized that if I take off the beret and keep moving, nobody recognizes me on BART,” remarked Hyneman.
Hyneman and Walsh, though both science educators of sorts, have different opinions of their work. Hyneman refers to his wife as “a real educator,” while he “played someone on TV that looked like he knew what he’s doing.”
“Most of her daily routine didn’t match with mine,” said Hyneman. “She had to stick to a strict state curriculum, which doesn’t mesh well with high explosives.”
Despite keeping their jobs mostly separate from each other, in one instance Walsh and her students proved especially helpful to the Mythbusters. In the episode “President’s Challenge” which aired December 8, 2010, President Barack Obama tasked the Mythbusters with solving the myth of the Archimedes death ray.
Legend said that in ancient times, a Roman armada was destroyed at Syracuse by Greeks holding bronze mirrors on the shore and reflecting sunlight to make the sails catch fire. To test this myth, Hyneman and his co-host Adam Savage found the perfect soldiers in Encinal students. Savage had 300 students stand on the shoreline adjacent to the high school, aiming their mirrors at a target boat commandeered by Hyneman. Unfortunately, the myth got busted, but Hyneman and President Obama considered it an invaluable opportunity to promote STEM to youth.
A year earlier in December 2009, the Mythbusters were invited to the White House for a recognition event for scientists and science educators. At his wife’s insistence, Hyneman brought Obama a special gift--an Encinal Jets t-shirt, which the President posed with in a photo.
From his days as a Mythbuster to the past Saturday’s speaking engagement on the Hornet, Jamie Hyneman remains an interesting part of the Island City’s rich history.