All Of The Science Hacks From 'Breaking Bad'
Breaking Bad did something most high school science teachers can only dream about: it made chemistry cool. Walter White is portrayed as a scientific super-genius in the TV show, at points almost reaching mad scientist levels of ingenuity. There doesn't seem to be a situation that Walt can't science his way out of, which leads to some pretty mindblowing stuff throughout the series.
But how accurate is Breaking Bad, really? Are all of those science hacks something you could use in real life, or are they just more examples of Hollywood getting the science wrong? Let's take a closer look at the science hacks from Breaking Bad to see just how smart Walt was after all.
- 1139 VOTES
Building An Automated Turret To Take Out Nazis
Episode Title: "Felina"
In the series finale, Walt returns to Albuquerque to deal with Jack and his crew once and for all. To do this, he purchases a fully automatic M60 and uses it to build a homemade auto-turret. The design is pretty haphazard by Walt's standards - it's mostly made of ratchets and duct tape - but it gets the job done. He manages to connect the device to a garage door opener in order to power it on remotely and successfully uses it to clear out Jack and company. According to an episode of MythBusters, this jury-rigged machine could actually be constructed with the parts Walt had on hand.
- 2112 VOTES
Making An Incendiary Device From Phosphorous
Episode Title: "Pilot"
The first episode of the series starts with a bang, and it also happens to end with one. After Walter and Jessie get taken hostage by two dealers, Walter offers to teach them his meth recipe in exchange for his and his partners' lives. Walt puts on a gas mask and gets to work, only to mix a few chemicals and set off a toxic gas device in front of his assailants. The two men are taken out by the fumes and Walt is able to escape.
Using one of the ingredients he has on hand, red phosphorous, Walter is able to incite a rapid chemical reaction. When in the presence of heat and moisture, phosphorous can turn into toxic and flammable phosphine. Walt then ignites the phosphine, dispersing it through the air. A chemical reaction then occurs as the phosphine reacts with the atmosphere and creates a floating haze of phosphoric acid. This powerful cloud of acid would certainly be enough to take someone out, making the scene fairly accurate.
- 3105 VOTES
Using An Etch-A-Sketch To Make Thermite
Episode Title: "A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal"
In Season 1, episode 7, Walt and Jesse must break into a building to steal a barrel of methylamine. Walt whips out a small amount of thermite and ignites it to burn through a lock, and it's all thanks to an Etch-A-Sketch.
When you're looking at an Etch-A-Sketch with a clean slate, you're actually looking at a fine coat of aluminum powder. Drawing on an Etch-A-Sketch is actually a reductive process, as turning the knobs etches tiny bits of aluminum powder off the screen. Walt extracts this powder from the Etch-A-Sketch and mixes it with a metal oxide, creating thermite. Once ignited, thermite rapidly oxidizes and burns at temperatures as high as 2,500 degrees Celsius, which makes Walt's plan pretty darn plausible.
- 4101 VOTES
Using A Giant Magnet To Wipe A Hard Drive In An Armored Room
Episode Title: "Live Free or Die"
The Season 5 premiere sees Walt and company dealing with the passing of Gus and the repercussions that come with it. The police seize many of Gus's possessions, including a laptop filled with incriminating evidence. Walt, Jesse, and Mike agree to work together to wipe out the evidence, and they turn to science to solve the issue.
The group buys a massive magnet from a scrapyard and installs it in a van. The magnet is then hooked up to 42 car batteries to ensure a powerful voltage, and the van is driven to the police station. The power from the battery is more than enough to wipe a hard drive, even from a distance, so they park the van directly outside of the evidence room and switch on the magnet. While the scenario might not be entirely realistic, the underlying principle is sound. You can wipe a hard drive with a magnet.
- 584 VOTES
Siphoning Methylamine From A Train And Replacing It With Water
Episode Title: "Dead Freight"
In Season 5, episode 5, Walt and crew undertake one of the most daring missions of the series. They decide to rob a train full of methylamine. The group manage to stop the train by parking a truck on the tracks, but they have limited time to pull off the heist. Not only does the crew have to hook up a hose to drain out the methylamine, but they also have to replace the methylamine with water to cover their tracks. That's not as simple as it sounds, as methylamine is less dense than water. To take 1,000 gallons of methylamine, they have to replace it with 892 gallons of water in order to make up exactly for the lost mass.
- 677 VOTES
Using A Soapy Sponge To Detonate Someone's Car
Episode Title: "Cancer Man"
In Season 1, episode 4, Walt is still reeling from his cancer diagnosis. He's also becoming more aggressive, especially after slaying Krazy-8 in the episode prior. At a gas station, Walt becomes annoyed by an obnoxious businessperson speaking loudly on his cell phone. As an act of revenge, Walt decides to total his car.
Walt uses a gas station squeegee to short circuit the man's car battery, which triggers an engine fire. This is due to a reaction known as electrolysis. The soapy water acts as a medium for the electricity in the battery's terminals, leading to the venting of hydrogen and oxygen that creates sparks. In real life, the fire would not have been strong enough to last more than a few seconds, since the contents of a lead-acid battery are not flammable. A ruptured fuel line could explain the inferno, however.