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All Of The Science Hacks From 'Breaking Bad'  

Eric Luis
567 votes 121 voters 5.3k views 12 items

List Rules Vote up all of Walt's most memorable 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.

1
Building An Automated Turret To Take Out Nazis
Building An Automated Turret T... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list All Of The Science Hacks From 'Breaking Bad'
Photo: AMC

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. 

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2
Making An Incendiary Device From Phosphorous 
Making An Incendiary Device Fr... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list All Of The Science Hacks From 'Breaking Bad'
Photo:  AMC

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.

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3
Using An Etch-A-Sketch To Make Thermite
Using An Etch-A-Sketch To Make... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list All Of The Science Hacks From 'Breaking Bad'
Photo: AMC

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.

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4
Using A Giant Magnet To Wipe A Hard Drive In An Armored Room
Using A Giant Magnet To Wipe A... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list All Of The Science Hacks From 'Breaking Bad'
Photo: AMC

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.

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