Q&A: Kari Byron from MythBusters

OMSI's new exhibition let's you step into the fascinating and (theoretically) dangerous world of Discovery Channel's MythBusters.

By John Chandler February 6, 2013 Published in the February 2013 issue of Portland Monthly


The opening of MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry arrives this Friday, so we took the opportunity to do a little research on the subject by talking with an expert in the field of highly entertaining scientific investigation, real-life MythBusters cast member, Kari Byron. 

How did the MythBusters exhibition originate?
I believe the museum came up with the idea and then worked very closely with MythBusters. It’s crazy in the details how they created our shop remotely. It’s like walking into our shop with all the edges softened so you don’t hurt yourself. We generally can’t bring people into our shop for insurance reasons because we’re always doing crazy dangerous things, so this is as close as you’re going to get to the whole MythBusters experience on your own.  

But you know what MythBusters fans are all about. Couldn’t you figure out a way to have a "blow-stuff-up room?"
I think everybody tried to brainstorm that one! The closest you get is this cool slow-motion winding video where you can make things explode and unexplode back and forth. So you can see everything and it’s really beautiful. But we couldn’t figure out a way to safely blow stuff up.

Do the MythBusters field a lot of requests to do educational outreach?
We do visit a lot of schools. We’ve been continually doing it, each of us on our own, and with Discovery Education. For a while I was doing a series called Head Rush that was completely designed for middle-school kids to discover the fun of science. We never set out to make MythBusters a science show; we use science as a tool, and the whole idea is that we’re not scientists. And you don’t have to be one to appreciate and love science, just like you appreciate art. It just so happens that we have a lot of fun with science. We’re a good example for kids to realize how fun it can be.

Did you have any science education like this when you were in school or was it pretty much by the book?
I had a couple of teachers that would come up with great interactive experiments. Physics teachers were the best, because you could always do the egg-drop experiment where you dropped the egg and had to design a parachute to keep it from breaking. We had a biology teacher that had us raise fruit flies, but that went horribly wrong and they all escaped. It was pretty disgusting there for a while. But when it comes right down to it, it wasn’t as fun in school as it is for me as an adult. I feel like I came to science later in life and I didn’t even realize I was doing it! All of a sudden it’s like, “Wow! So science is just like art—you get your hands dirty, and you rely on curiosity to find answers.” I think it changed me a little later than it should have. 

When you’re preparing for an episode of MythBusters, how do you guys decide which MythBuster tackles which myth?
(Cackles evilly) We try to assign myths that appeal to our abilities, strengths, or weaknesses. If it’s something that looks pretty gross they tend to throw it at me ‘cause they like to torture me. We’re like siblings. It’s like, “Oh, this looks disgusting. Let’s have Kari do it!”

Don’t you have an opt-out clause? Or maybe once a season they can allow a veto?
I’ve tried and tried, but there is apparently no such thing!

Yeah, I saw the episode where you cut open the pig carcasses. That must have been rough (Kari is a pescetarian).
At every single meeting Tory (Belleci, fellow MythBuster) and I argue about trying to find some synthetic human analog to use, and he’ll go, “No! We’re going to use a pig!” We haven’t come up with a perfect human analog yet. They tend to be really expensive, and we’re sort of down and dirty, like, “How can we make this happen with two light bulbs, duct tape, spray paint and a chainsaw?”

MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition will be at OMSI Feb 8–May 5. Do fans bombard you with myths to bust?
Oh yeah, fans sending us ideas, that’s like our bread and butter these days. It’s like having thousands of researchers out there. We’ve gotten myths from kids looking through history books, conspiracy theorists … We’re all on twitter and there’s a MythBusters discussion board so we play close attention and throw the best ones in the hopper. People even walk up and tell me! Every time I go to a dinner party or something, I see people wracking their brains, going, “I’m trying to come up with something for you!” And I say, “Great! Keep going! Let me know.”

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