You might know him best for talking about the latest supercars and whizzing around the world in crazy customised vehicles on Top Gear, but Richard Hammond also knows a bit about science too. In his TV show Science Of Stupid, he looks at hilariously unsuccessful stunt videos on the internet and explains what went wrong using basic scientific principles and some awesome slow-motion footage. So if you’ve ever wondered what circular momentum had to do with your failed backflip, or why your centre of gravity matters when trying to spin on your head, switch over to the National Geographic Channel to find out. We caught up with Richard to find out more about what Series 2 has in store and to uncover the science behind his own brush with stupidity…
How would you sum up the Science Of Stupid?
Well, it’s providing two things. It’s showing hilarious clips of people doing stupid things that are often painful, but what’s even better is that it’s giving us an excuse to enjoy them because it’s in the pursuit of scientific knowledge and understanding. We’re having the things that they’ve done explained, so we’re learning why they’ve fallen over, or fallen off or landed flat on their face, and I hope it’s an easily digestible form of science.
What do you love most about watching all those crazy stunt videos?
I always love the ambition that you can see in people’s eyes, when in their mind they can see it unfold in one way but then it goes a very different way. We’ve had clips of people jumping into a swimming pool that turned out to be frozen or spinning around on office chairs and it’s just gone horribly wrong. I just like that moment when you can see how they imagine it’s going to go and after you’ve seen the science explained you then know its not going to work and you want to shout at them ‘Stop, it’s going to hurt!’
Do people ever send their videos in to you, wanting you to explain where they went wrong?
I think that’s starting to happen now that we’re on the second season. Now people are becoming more aware of it and after the first season did so well, I don’t doubt that things will start being sent in.
What’s the most stupid thing you’ve ever attempted that you can explain with science?
I’ve done a number of things. I remember when I was a kid I was forever building ramps for my bicycle to try and jump like action man and generally my problem would be one of trajectory, speed and momentum and quite often the rigidity of the materials I was using for the ramp as they weren’t able to support my bicycle. So that failed on a number of levels. Also, our garage wall was next to the house next door and I used to try and climb up between the two walls using friction, which was great but I would then tire halfway and gravity would take hold and do all the remaining work for me.
What’s the most fascinating science fact you’ve learnt whilst presenting the show?
Loads! There’s the conservation of angular momentum, when people draw their legs in if they’re spinning to do a backflip or whatever. If you halve your body length you actually multiply your rotational speed by four. And it’s great because you can see that actually working with the slow-motion footage on the show.
What can we look forward to in Series 2?
Well it carries on with the same attitude. The clips are going to be even more extreme. There’s certainly a lot of pain and also a lot more laughs at people making fools of themselves. So hopefully it will still be a great excuse for laughing at people’s unfortunate moments because we’re learning about science at the same time. We get to laugh and learn, which makes us all feel good.
Science of Stupid Series 2 starts on Wednesday 11th February at 10pm on National Geographic Channel.
Plus, stay tuned for our full interview with Richard Hammond, where we find out more about his love of science and get his opinions on the latest car tech, which will be appearing in a future issue of How It Works magazine.