In The Mix

Science Guy

Extend your Wi-Fi range with a soda can? No prob for MacGyver’s tech whiz.

Paula Chin

Physics and poetry may seem like a strange blend, but while working for Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, it was Rhett Allain’s job to fuse the two. 

“The guys on the show came up with the crazy concepts — like how hard a robot would have to punch a shark to scare it away — and my role was to help them reduce complicated stuff to a 10-second explanation,” he says. “I thought of it as science haiku.”

These days, Allain, an associate professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, is lending his brainpower as the technical consultant to CBS’s MacGyver, making sure that the show’s awesome science can actually hold water.

“We call them ‘Mac hacks,’” he says. “Writers send me scripts and I go through each one to see if they’re plausible. If not, I’ll modify them and make suggestions, or we’ll brainstorm different situations and things that can be done.” 

It isn’t easy concocting cool new ways for MacGyver (Lucas Till) to get himself out of a jam, “but the show has been pretty good science-wise,” Allain says. “One of my favorite episodes was when MacGyver jumps from a third-story window and lands on a body bag he inflated with a fire extinguisher. I’d never do that myself, but it’s perfectly legit and based on a real physics principle.”

And when writers don’t keep it real? He knows when to let it slide. “They have used the classic ‘bullet striking an object to ignite oil or fuel,’ even though it’s totally bogus. But I  understand that it’s a fictional show. Sometimes it’s okay to be wrong.”

Viewers who want to try their own hacks at home — like making a Wi-Fi  range extender with a soda can, or an electromagnet out of pennies and vinegar — can check out his how-to videos on CBS.com. After all, everyone’s a MacGyver wannabe, including Allain.

“I love it when the writers come up with some impossible challenge and I have to solve it really fast,” he says. “I feel just like Mac, but without being in danger.” 


 This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 2, 2017