Breaking Bad | Season 5 | Episode 1 | “Live Free or Die”
The most hotly-anticipated show since season four of Breaking Bad returned to our screens this week, with a classic flash-forward cold open. Things pick up right where they left off, with Walt scrambling to deal with the aftermath of his victory over Gus and Hank unwilling to drop the bone he’s been chewing on. What scientific escapades await? In this post, I’ll be talking about magnetism.
Walt is buying a M60 machine gun in the cold open. It’s probably coincidence, but the inventor of the barrel gas expansion cutoff system used in the M60 was Joseph White.
“String theories and God particles” – our scrapyard owner apparently has plenty of time to bring himself up to date on theoretical and particle physics.
The car-lifting crane at the scrapyard is essentially a movable electromagnet and generator. Walt’s plan is a pretty good one, assuming that the evidence room is above-ground and accessible by road (which it is). The owner’s security briefing is pretty thorough and completely warranted (Walt’s assertion that his glasses are “non-ferr” indicates that they are made of a non-ferrous metal, probably titanium, and will not be attracted to the magnet). The magnetic stripe on most credit cards will be irreversibly corrupted by a magnetic field, but most cards these days use smartcard chips and/or RFID, which may not work in the presence of a strong magnetic field but won’t be damaged by one.
21 12 V car batteries wired in series (which is effectively additive) is indeed 252 V. Adding a further series of 21 in parallel will keep the voltage at 252 V, but double the available current. Since the magnetic field generated by an electromagnet is proportional to the current, Walt is effectively doubling the strength of his magnetising weapon by insisting on more batteries.
A magnetic field won’t harm a laptop computer too much, but it is death to a hard drive (which stores data by magnetising parts of a disk). However, modern and expensive laptops may use a solid-state drive (Flash memory), which would be unaffected. It’s likely not going to be an issue, but it’s a significant risk if Gus kept backups on a USB stick or like to have the latest, quickest technology. Speaking of which, I’m not sure whether laptop frames contain much ferrous metal – perhaps Jesse’s laptop went flying due to the hard drive?
The LCD screens on Jesse’s laptop and the police computers wouldn’t be affected much by a magnetic field, but the computers would certainly shut down. I’m not sure whether the screen would “pixellate” out like we see or whether it’s just go blank like it’d been switched off.
When Walt cranks it up to eleven, I assume that the magnet is being attracted to steel rebar inside the concrete walls, pulling the vehicle over. The goings-on inside the police station might be slightly unrealistic (everyone still has their guns, for example), but don’t detract from it being fun television.
Elements in the credits
|Steven MicHael Quezada||Hydrogen|
|StewArt A. Lyons||Argon|