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Episode 30: Son of a Gun, Showering during a Thunderstorm

  • You can get electrocuted from a phone or in the shower from a lighting strike to your house: confirmed
  • A woman got impregnated from a bullet shot through the family jewels: busted
  • A boat can be driven while it is still attached to a trailer: confirmed

On the Phone in a Thunderstorm

Myth: You can get electrocuted from a phone or in the shower from a lighting strike to your house.

For this myth they used PG&E's lightning strike test facility, which is a huge dome containing its own power generators. It can generate 700,000 volts at 500,000 watts, but even that is still much below actual lightning: "We can't even come close to what mother Nature can generate"

One interesting statistic they quoted at the facility as a rule of thumb is that 10,000 volts = 1cm of air travel.

For the test they wanted to simulate what happens when lighting hits the wiring outside a house so that they could see where the charge travels. Adam built a 'stunt house' on wheels with roof, siding, wiring, working shower, plumbing, TV, computer, wall switches, etc... He had a little trouble getting it working so they called in Stephen the electrician to get Adam's wiring to work. Stephen also served as their resident expert -- he had heard about melted phones, but has not personally seen any.

Experiment 1: Talking on the phone

Setup: * 200,000 volts in order to get more damage-wielding amps * 'Chip' the ballistics gel dummy inside the house with a phone attached to his head and a meter to measure the current where the heart would be.

Test 1: There was a nice shot of electricity right into the outside wiring of the house (threw the remote camera out of focus), but there was no current to Chip as the charge travelled out the ground wire.

Test 2: Adam cut some of the grounds to set up a worst case scenario, which delivered the intended result: electricity arced from the phone right into Chip's head, setting of a charge that Jamie had set. It tripped the fuse of the meter (> 40mA), which means that Chip would have died, had he not been made of ballistics gel.

Test 3: Tried with older phone and older fuse box -- still killed Chip, though less fireworks as Jamie's gunpowder charge didn't ignite.

(the TV and computer powered up just fine)

Experiment 2: The Shower

Setup: * Chip grounded with a wire to mimic standing on a drain * electrical wiring run next to some of the shower plumbing

There were big electrical explosions in the shower. Couldn't get readings off of the meter but it seemed clear that one would not want to have been in the shower.


Can getting shot get you pregnant?

Myth: Young Civil War cavalryman gets shot in his tibia, the bullet ricochets through his family jewels, flies out and pierces the womb of a woman 150 yards away.

This is one of their older myths that they have tested, dating back to a 1874 write-up in American Medical Weekly.

Two parts of the myth being tested:

  1. Can a bullet ricochet like that?
  2. Could it carry the necessary genetic material?

Elements of the myth: * [minie ball bullet][mb] (likely ammunition used) * rifle with 100ft/s muzzle velocity, can hit target 900 yards away

Sidenote: the term "Son of a Gun", while dating to the same era, actually referred to a child conceived on the gun deck of a British Man of War, as the gun deck was where the sailors lived.

Experiment 1: Can the miniball pass through a leg and still have enough energy to travel the 150 yards (and pierce a belly)?

Setup: Buster given an artificial calf made of a real bones wrapped in ballistics gel and then put into a kneeling position to mimic dismounted shooting stance of a cavalryman.

Result: bullet moving >1000ft/s moving out of the leg -- it would have plenty of velocity for the myth.

Experiment 2: Can a bullet carry the genetic material? (at 200 ft)

Setup: blue-dyed sperm inside a blue trouser bag setup between gunner and petticoat-wrapped ballistics gel ("the womb"). The shot was fired by their Civil War re-enactor/expert Jim.

(First try) Adam: "Bloody hell, I think he did it." Jim made the shot perfectly on the first try (through the sperm-filled trouser bag and into the fake womb).

Could not find any sperm in the ballistics gel after examining under a microscope. Not surprising, considering that there were burns on the petticoat.

Experiment 2: Can a bullet carry the genetic material? (at 50 ft)

Still could not find any sperm in the ballistics gel


Trailer Troubles (Dumbest mistake on the high seas)

Myth: Boaters take the boat out but can't seem to get any speed out of it. They call a repairman to come check it out, who realizes that the trailer is still attached.

13' Boston whaler

Boat without trailer: 23mph

Boat with trailer: 4.7mph

Confirmed that this has happened at least once, but intentionally: had to deliver boat to a customer who didn't have enough room for trailer to get to boat ramp behind house.



It's actually a "minie ball," after its creator, Captain Claude-Etienne Minie.

corrected the notes -- thanks. With all the modern branding today (Apple mini, Mini Cooper, iPod mini, Google mini) I thought those bullet makers were just being ahead of their time :).

Ah, the infamous minie-ball. Actually the story was submitted anonymously to the editor of the fairly new Medical Weekly, by a friend whose handwriting the editor recognized. It was a joke, and for those that didn't get it, the editor attempted to clarify this in the publication two weeks later.

As to whether or not the POSSIBILITY of this potentially happening, the Myth Busters actually failed, as usual, by not considering all possibilities. Their second test did not deform the minie-ball before perforating the simulated scrotum, there was no simulated testicle (or attached simulated vas deferense) to carry away to potentially be implanted with the minie-ball while protecting the "genetic cargo". Hmm...