Crystal myth? ‘Mythbusters’ tested the science of Breaking Bad


Mythbusters did a special episode testing out some of the science used on the AMC masterpiece Breaking Bad to see if it holds up in the real world. If you’re a Breaking Bad fan it’s hard to forget two key scenes from Season 1: when Walt and Jesse melt a body with hydrofluoric acid and it ends up dissolving the tub and the floor, and when Walt uses mercury fulminate to walk away unscathed while he dramatically blows up everything in drug dealer Tuco’s office. The windows even blew out!

This is the kind of stuff that makes you feel awestruck at science, but is any of it really possible? As viewers we tend to believe in the power of Walter White because, after all, he IS a science teacher who knows enough about chemicals to create the best meth known to mankind, and is a general badass. We want to believe!

Let’s talk about the bathtub first. Mythbusters substituted pig for human flesh, and did the experiment on a small scale with hydrofluoric acid at UC Berkley, where they had access to the dangerous chemical and help from Berkley’s chemists. They used a small bit of pork with the bone, wood, linoleum, and steel to recreate the substances in the bathroom scene, but it didn’t make much of a dent in anything besides make the pork softer. They then took 6 gallons of sulfuric acid, which is supposed to be stronger, out to the desert to pour on a beheaded pig in a steel bathtub in a bathroom constructed specially for the experiment. The acid did turn the pig into goo, but didn’t even touch the tub or the flooring.

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To test the mercury fulminate, they put 5 grams of it inside a pumpkin, and that definitely worked, but it wasn’t enough to test what happened on the show. To do that they went out to the desert again and built a replica of Tuco’s office that even had windows and dummies inside. To make sure no one got hurt with the dangerous substance, they built a “throwbot” programmed to hurl 50 grams of mercury fulminate at a speed of 60 MPH at the floor, but this attempt yielded pathetic results.

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They ramped up the speed, and still nothing. Finally they got the building to fall when the robot threw 250 grams of the stuff, but even the robot stand-in for Walt was a casualty.

Breaking Bad‘s creator Vince Giligan joked about being taken to task by the reality show: “We should get these guys to build us a writing robot and get this right next time.”

The special Breaking Bad Mythbusters premiered Monday night, but it airs again Thursday at 2 p.m. EST on Discovery.

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