President Obama Puts 'Mythbusters' to the Test

What do President Obama, Greek mathematician Archimedes and 500 "soldiers" have in common? They'll all be part of a special episode of the popular TV show "Mythbusters" airing December 8th on the Discovery Channel.

After appearing with the president at the White House Science Fair, hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman stopped by the set of Washington Unplugged for an exclusive interview.

President Obama has challenged the "Mythbusters" team to tackle the 'Archimedes death ray' in which, as legend has it, Archimedes set fire to an invading Roman fleet using only mirrors and the reflected rays of the sun.

Hyneman told CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante that the hosts "went to the White House Library and the president explained that he wasn't quite satisfied with our earlier experiments and so we need to take things full scale."

Hopefully third time's the charm, since the first two attempts to explore the death ray "busted." This time may be different.

"We've never tried this myth in the exact way that Archimedes supposedly had done it, which was 500 soldiers on the shore with polished shields directing the sun's rays at an enemy boat," Savage told Plante.

Unfortunately, ancient Grecian soldiers weren't readily available, so Savage and Hyneman had to adjust.

"Instead of using 500 soldiers," Hyneman said, "We used 500 school kids, high school and middle school students from my wife's high school where she teaches science in Alameda, California."

Hyneman also joked that standing on a boat about to be set on fire for the new show, which is being filmed now, does have its own perks.

"We decked out an abandoned life boat from a cruise ship... I got to stand on the bow of this while this was happening in a fire suit but, among other things, holding a broiler rack full of weenies to roast," he said.

Plante asked Savage and Hyneman what kind of impact "Mythbusters" has on kids. According to the White House, the show has 13 million viewers each week and is popular among 9-14 year olds. Hyneman told Plante it's about having fun with science.

"Neither Adam or I are scientists, we're not engineers or anything of the sort," he said. "We just have a lot of fun and the thing is, fun for us happens to involve science and satisfying our curiosity."

Hyneman added: "I think if we had gone about this by trying to do science, it wouldn't appeal to them at all. As it is, we're just screwing around and it seems to work." Savage agreed. "We never set out to start trying to teach kids about science and we try and remain ignorant of that as a mission because we feel like kids can smell that from a mile away," he said.

Catch Mythbusters with President Obama and the 'Archimedes death ray' on December 8th.

And watch Tuesday's Washington Unplugged above, also featuring New York Times' Jeff Zeleny on the endangered species that are Southern Democrats and this week's "Plugged In" with Politico's Kiki Ryan.

"Washington Unplugged," CBSNews.com's exclusive daily politics Webshow, appears live on CBSNews.com each weekday at 12:30 p.m. ET. Click here to check out previous episodes.


Lauren Seifert
Lauren Seifert is an associate producer for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. For more Washington Unplugged, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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