There are other hands-on science shows on TV, but "3 Scientists Walk Into a Bar" takes a novel approach. First, its topics focus on weather and natural phenomena. And as you can infer from the title, its approach is light and irreverent. Launching with three back-to-back episodes May 31 and returning with five more in October, it's fun, engaging, interactive, relatable and accessible, as executive producer Isaac Holub of Lucky 8 TV describes it.
"I think the title perfectly captures the spirit of the show," Holub says. "It tells you that this is a science show that seeks to break all the rules of science shows. This is not a show that tells you how the world works. This is a show that asks how the world works using relatable questions you've asked before. Then we put those questions to the test to reveal some pretty surprising answers. We like to think of each episode as being the punchline to its own 'three scientists walk into a bar' joke."
"We want it to be like hanging out with friends…smart friends with access to explosives," quips Anthony Carboni, one of the hosts. A science reporter (Discovery's "Hard Science," "We Have Concerns" podcast, DNews), he knew what he didn't want to do: talk at the audience. "We didn't want to make a show where a very authoritative person explains things to you very seriously." He loved the fun of kids' science shows like "3-2-1 Contact," "Mr. Wizard" and "Bill Nye the Science Guy," and wanted to recreate it on an adult level.
Statistician Tara Long, who worked with Carboni on "Hard Science," has hosted web shows about video games, science and politics and is a producer at Lucky 8, says viewers will learn "pretty much everything you never knew you wanted to know about the weather: how it relates to our everyday lives, how it affects us in ways we don't really think about, and most importantly, how much we're willing to embarrass ourselves for the sake of our audience."
The third member of the triumvirate is a bona fide rocket scientist. Travis Taylor (Nat Geo's "Rocket City Rednecks," "When Aliens Attack" and H2's "The Universe" and "Life After People") holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, a masters degrees in physics, astronomy, and mechanical and aerospace engineering, and a Ph.D. in aerospace systems engineering. He's also an author (fact and sci-fi fiction), holds patents for inventions and works for the Army developing space concepts. "Travis is a genius when it comes to building stuff and then blowing it up," says Long.
"Brainstorming experiments with Travis was one of the most fun parts of the show," says Holub. "Build a tornado in a gym? 'No problem.' Make nano-diamonds by simulating a meteor crash? 'Sure, I can do that.' He always pulled it off."
Holub praises Carboni's wit and enthusiasm and ability to make it all relatable, and Long's mathematical genius. "She calculated the wind speed it would take to lift up an average-sized person in this skydive simulator we used, and when we tested it she was off by something like a tenth of a mile per hour. I was dumbfounded."
Each of the experiments in the series started with a question about the weather, and then the team did research into cool ways to put those questions to the test. "We knew we were onto something when we found a really basic question that no one actually knew the answer to," Holub says. For example, "Is it true that the number of seconds between thunder and lightning equals the number of miles you are away from the storm?" The conventional wisdom that one second equals one mile isn't true. “We clear up the myth and follow up with what the real facts tell us about how to stay safe in a storm."
Other topics include why clouds seem to defy the laws of gravity, why storms spin, what causes the northern lights, the difference between a meteor, a comet and an asteroid, the most earthquake-resistant building materials, what Marfa lights are, where to find gold and why you shouldn't pull too hard when you're stuck in quicksand. "We test heat-resistant materials against molten steel slag to simulate the temperatures of lava. We test whether ghost sightings could be the product of weather patterns," Holub says, adding that viewers will discover "whether staring at the sun will really make you go blind, whether or not two snowflakes can ever be alike."
"We talk about all kinds of amazing stuff: how animals can sense magnetic fields, how the Northern Lights are caused by cosmic particles, how the field protects us from intense solar energy," says the game-for-anything Carboni, who often played human guinea pig. "I set my hand on fire. I stood in front of a giant fan and let it blow me backwards about 30 feet. I sink into sinkholes, jump off of towers, and get drunk and shoot lasers everywhere. It is a cool job, and one day it will probably kill me."
Carboni, who also broke the Zamboni used in an episode shot in an ice rink, drew the line at jumping from a 35-foot platform onto a giant air bed. "So we put a fake beard on the instructor, and had him do it. We highlight that failure in the episode too. It wound up being really funny," recalls Long. Her favorite experiment in the series involved taking a group of ghost hunters to an old, historic house. "By adjusting a few of the weather conditions in the house we were able to successfully convince them that the place was haunted. At the end of the tour we revealed what we had done, and they were all surprisingly great sports about it."
In the tornadoes episode, she recalls, "They put me in one of those skydiving wind tunnels to simulate the extreme winds of a tornado. What they don't tell you beforehand is that having 125 mph winds shot directly up your nose will mess you up. I was sick for three days after. Would I do it again? Yes, I would."
Aside from creating that 15-foot tornado, Tyler is particularly proud of an experiment simulating an asteroid impact to create diamonds. He came up with some of the ideas himself, and pre-tested the experiments, but sometimes, ironically, the weather just didn't cooperate: "We did have a lot of cold weather while filming, and clouds the day we wanted to burn stuff with a magnifying glass."
Not every idea worked out. "There was a lot of trial and error on our part," Holub says. "We wanted to do this bit for our episode on supernatural weather about the sailing stones in Death Valley. How do these massive boulders somehow float across the desert floor? There's a pretty well established answer, but replicating the phenomenon proved insanely difficult. Definitely a story to revisit and a good reminder that what Mother Nature does with ease takes an enormous amount of effort and energy on the part of us humans to attempt to replicate.”
With "3 Scientists," he hopes to convey the message that "science doesn't have to be this esoteric complicated thing that's owned by institutions and Ph.D.s. It's something that we can all participate in, appreciate, enjoy and own. If we can inspire any kids that tune in to want to become scientists, I'll feel I've achieved my goals."
"Weather is never something I thought I'd be talking about on television," Long admits, "but the show is so fun and so hands on, I think people of all ages will be able to share our enthusiasm for these topics, whether it's something they're usually interested in or not."
"You'll have a deeper understanding of at least one thing in your life every episode," Carboni promises. "I hope everyone walks away with a deeper understanding of the world around them, with more amazement about everyday things, with questions of their own, and experiments they want to try for themselves. We want you to have fun and leave curious. That's how we'll know that we're doing it right."
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