President Obama on 'Mythbusters': Will his death ray work?

President Obama's episode of Mythusters, aimed at getting teens interested in science and math, airs Wednesday night on the Discovery Channel.

Courtesy of Discovery Channel
President Obama records an episode of 'Mythbusters' with co-hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage July 27 in the White House library.

Tonight’s the big night – President Obama is appearing on Mythbusters! That’s the long-running Discovery Channel show which tests common myths and legends, such as, if you’re the Green Hornet, and you and your car the Black Beauty are buried alive in a giant grave, can you escape by igniting the car’s rockets and blowing yourself out of the dirt-packed hole?

(No, we didn’t study that legend in school either. It’s a scene from an upcoming movie, but the Mythbusters gang is going to test its plausibility anyway – they’re always looking for excuses to set off big explosions.)

Sadly, Obama himself will not get a chance to blow anything up. He’s already acknowledged that. He will get a chance to order hundreds of people to try and burn things with giant imitation death rays, however. That sounds like a lot more fun than talking to Nancy Pelosi about why she hates the Bush tax cut compromise.

The set-up is this: on the show, Obama invites Mythbusters-in-chief Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage into the White House library to give them a “viewer challenge.” (Mr. Hyneman is the one who looks like a member of Delta Force – Walrus Division. Mr. Savage resembles a middle school science teacher gone rogue.)

The challenge Obama will set is to test the legend of Archimedes’ solar ray. Supposedly, the Greek scientist used giant mirrors to reflect sunlight toward Roman ships in the siege of Syracuse, setting them on fire.

This is a real legend – not a scene from an upcoming movie in which Johnny Depp stars as the Roman fleet commander. Mythbusters has examined it before: in 2006, for instance, they managed to char a wooden fishing boat off San Francisco. But Obama is adding a twist: he wants Hyneman and Savage to get 500 teenagers to point 500 mirrors at that boat, and see if it works better.

Get young people involved! That’s so presidential.

“Figure this out and report back to me,” says Obama to the Mythbusters at the beginning of tonight’s show.

We won’t spoil the ending for you, other than to say we would if we could, but we can’t because we haven’t seen the whole thing either.

Some have criticized Obama for wasting his time appearing on basic cable, especially since he recently appeared on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” as well.

Well, Mythbusters is not exactly an MIT lecture series, but it does use the word “fulcrum” occasionally, and anything the president can do to get tweens and teens interested in science is a good thing, and worth it in our book. Tuesday saw the release of results from the latest round of PISA academic aptitude tests. US students made some progress in math and science, but still lag behind their global counterparts. Obama himself calls his challenge a “giant science project.”

Plus, presidents have been buffing up their image to look like regular guys for, oh, we’d say about two hundred years, give or take. Herbert Hoover got elected president in part because his campaign distributed lots of pictures of him playing with his dog. George W. Bush went on “Fishing with Roland Martin.” Caught a four-pound bass, too.

But the best argument for the appearance is this: it’s free Pentagon research. Do you not think the Department of Defense is interested finding out whether many giant mirrors reflecting the sun can produce one ray that might possibly burn up an Al Qaeda frigate if it sailed into San Francisco? You bet it is. And in today’s tough budget times, that’s research that might fall by the wayside, unless Mythbusters does it.

Case closed.

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