So be it that TV star Jamie Hyneman’s celebrity has now exploded like so many grand experiments done with co-host Adam Savage on his Discovery Channel show, “Mythbusters.”
The 1974 Columbus North High School graduate’s real career in scientific research and development remains intact after the ending last month of the show that paired real science with serious craziness. The pair tested test everything from oddball theories to long-held assumptions.
Hyneman is now designing a new, high-speed cargo ship for the U.S. Navy — and working on his remarks for the Indiana University undergraduate commencement address he will deliver May 7 in Bloomington.
“I certainly never intended to be a celebrity or to ever be in front of the camera,” said Hyneman, speaking by phone from his M5 Industries research and development studio that served as the home for the San Francisco-based show. “Now that it’s over, I’m not seeking more of the same, though I guess I wouldn’t consider it out of the question if I found something that was the exact right fit.”
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Hyneman, 59, is a Michigan native and a 1981 Indiana University graduate with a degree in Russian linguistics.
When he delivered the address at a 2010 graduation ceremony at Villanova University, where he has worked with its engineering department on a variety of projects, he encouraged students to feed an insatiable curiosity. National Public Radio later ranked it among the best commencement speeches in history.
“While all the (show’s) explosions, destruction and dangerous experiments seem to be my signature, what I really take joy and pride in — what means the most to me about my career — is not the wanton destruction and television fame,” he told graduates. “It’s the passion for exploration, the curiosity, the hunger for knowledge that we demonstrate on the show.
“Our aim is to encourage new scientists, new engineers, and the new problem solvers in every discipline.”
Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie praised Hyneman for his educational impact.
“Few people have done more than Jamie Hyneman to share the fun of science and engineering with a large and enthusiastic audience,” McRobbie said. “He has exploded any myth that studying the humanities will not lead to an exciting and successful career.”
He considers the No. 1 thing for graduates to know is higher education is only the beginning of learning.
“No formal education can give you everything you need to know,” Hyneman said. “But it can help you learn how to find elsewhere what you need to know. It’s the acquisition of tools to acquire needed knowledge rather than actually getting the knowledge itself.”
It took him a while to come to that realization.
He remembers his teen years locally as tough enough that he hitchhiked across the country at 14. He also was independent enough that he owned and operated the Fur Fin and Feather Pet Center on Central Avenue in Columbus from 1974 to 1977 before venturing to IU. He described himself in a Republic interview last year as “headstrong and adventurous.”
Columbus North inducted him into the school’s Alumni Hall of Fame in September. At that gathering honoring him and three others, Hyneman sent a video in his absence, including the straightforward encouragement to students, “Keep studying your math and science — it’s good for you.”
He discovered that TV can be frustrating and painstaking — sometimes more so than the experiments he and Savage attempted.
“The amount of work that it takes to get something on film often requires as much work or more than whatever it was we were doing in the first place,” he said. “And while I loved the show, it’s now a relief and a joy to actually be able to focus again on making and developing things without stopping constantly to deal with camera issues or what a producer or director thinks ought to be done.
“To put it bluntly, I’ve spent 14 years with people who don’t know which end of the screwdriver to use trying to tell me how to build things.”
The show’s tests included efforts such as:
- Whether someone actually could survive a fall from an airplane in a life raft, as depicted in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” The short answer, via crash-test dummies — no.
- Whether a candle can be constructed from people’s earwax. Again, no.
He acknowledged that the program, which included a national tour that stopped in Indianapolis a year ago, might have slightly strengthened his profile.
“Well, I think they know a little more of who I am and what I’m capable of more than someone coming in to them cold,” he said. “So the exposure was fantastic.
“And granted, though some of the things we were doing seemed a little silly or even adolescent, people still could see the skill and effort that went into what we were doing.”
Hometown: Marshall, Michigan
Resides: San Francisco, California, where he works at his M5 Industries research and development firm.
Family: Wife, Eileen Walsh, a retired longtime science teacher. Hyneman jokes that she is unimpressed with his scientific ways.
Claim to fame: Co-host and executive producer of the Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters” for 14 years. The final episode aired March 6.
His company’s atmosphere and equipment: “Multiply times 1,000 what any average Joe has stocked in his garage, and you have an idea of what it’s like at M5 Industries.”
Education: 1974 graduate of Columbus North High School and a 1981 graduate of Indiana University with a degree in Russian linguistics.
Before college: Operated Fur Fin and Feather Pet Center on Central Avenue in Columbus from 1974 to 1977. He once cared for a lion cub.
After college: He started and ran a successful charter business in the Caribbean, and followed that with film special effects. Over the course of 20 years, he has had a hand in more than 800 commercials and feature films, first as a technician, then as a manager, and finally as founder of M5 Industries in San Francisco.