5 Mythbusters Project Ideas that Won't Poke Your Eye Out
The show “Mythbusters” has become known for its entertaining and educational take on common assumptions or “myths” about the world around us. Using scientific methods, popular legends, rumors and myths are either systematically debunked or deemed true (or at least plausible). Teachers and students who enjoy the show are often inspired by it, and might even find themselves wanting to verify some of the findings they see on the show in classroom experiments.
Safe and fun Mythbusters project ideas
On their TV show, hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman have access to experts in the field of firearms and explosives, not to mention an enormous amount of safety equipment. Since school administrators might object to daily calls to the fire department, here are five fun and safe Mythbusters project ideas that can be done in the classroom — no bomb squad required.
1. Dirtier than a toilet seat?
One often-quoted factoid is that due to constant handling, objects we use every day such as cellphones are covered in more germs, and therefore dirtier, than a toilet seat. This is a great candidate for a student Mythbuster project thanks to the theatrical gross-out factor — and proper use of the scientific method.
Choose a number of common objects to test. Ideas include:
- Kitchen sponge
- Light switch
- Computer keyboard
- Shopping cart handle
- TV remote control
Have students swab the surface of each item with a clean cotton swab and then rub each cotton swab one by one on its own clean Petri dish. Lastly, do the same process with a toilet seat. Label each Petri dish appropriately and leave the dishes overnight. Ask students to predict which item will have the most germs and take a vote.
When tested for microorganisms and germ colonies, the Mythbusters show found that the toilet seat actually had the least amount of microorganisms. Which had the highest? The kitchen sponge. What will your students find?
2. Pop rocks and soda: Killer combination?
There are still some people around who believe the urban myth that your stomach could explode if Pop Rocks candies and soda were consumed in one sitting (and that “Mikey” from the original Life cereal commercials met his demise this way).
Have students first combine Pop Rocks and water in a small bowl and see what happens. Then have them do the same with soda instead of water. They will see that the results are similar and that the candy sizzles but does not explode.
If they wish, the braver students may combine some soda and Pop Rocks in their mouths once they see that there is no danger of combustion. The main objective of this project is to show students not to blindly believe every rumor they hear.
3. The James Bond scuba suit/tuxedo test
This experiment was inspired by a scene from the James Bond film “Goldfinger,” in which Bond reveals an impeccable white tuxedo underneath the scuba suit he emerged from the ocean wearing.
As long as you have access to a swimming pool and an adult volunteer, it’s possible to recreate this scene and determine whether or not a full tuxedo could be preserved in wearable condition after being worn under a scuba suit underwater. Rent a tuxedo and dry diving suit for your volunteer (perhaps your principal?). Have him or her put on the tuxedo and then the diving suit (no need for scuba gear). The class can observe as your test subject enters the pool up to his or shoulders for 10-15 minutes.
The tuxedo in the Mythbuster experiment remained in perfect, wearable condition under a wetsuit in the water for 40 minutes. How will your student experiment fare?
4. Pirate eye patches: Fashion statement or practical tool?
This Mythbusters project idea explores an interesting question: Did pirates (and other seafaring folk) wear eye patches due to frequent eyeball-reducing injuries, or as a tool to help them see better when running above and below deck? For this experiment, you’ll need an eye patch and a few obstacles that can be safely used in near-darkness — for example, a short corridor to navigate or an item to locate in a closet.
A test subject should wear the patch over one eye while exposed to bright sunlight for a few minutes. For the first part of this experiment, the test subject should enter the darkened space and navigate the obstacle *without* moving the eye patch. Students can record the time it takes them to complete their task.
For part two, the test subject spends the same amount of time in the sunlight, but this time, switches the patch to his or her other eye after entering the dimly-lit obstacle space. How much faster do they complete their task?
The Mythbusters concluded that keeping one eye adjusted for dim light through the use of an eye patch was a valid method for sailors to maintain good vision while working above and below a ship’s deck. What will your students discover?
5. Will strangers accept free hugs?
There have been “Free Hugs” campaigns around the world, with different results. Have students challenge the myth that people who don’t know each other very will not want to hug one another. The school hallway or lunchroom are good places to conduct this experiment.
Test out different aspects of offering free hugs; which works better, a sign or a T-shirt offering “Free Hugs”? Have students test each method. The Mythbusters found that the T-shirt wearer tends to get more hugs than the sign holder. What will your students find?
Mythbusters project ideas can be a great way to conduct engaging and enlightening experiments in class. The ideas listed here can get you started, but if you run out, simply tune in to the show or brainstorm common myths and urban legends on your own. Best of all, you and your students will have fun while learning something in the process.