For pay, Mike Bushroe analyzes data from Jupiter's largest moon; for fun, he designs solar death rays.
The day job, as senior software engineer for the Descent Imager Spectral Radiometer (DISR) on the Huygens space probe that landed on Titan last January, is the second-best job a guy could have, Bushroe said.
His dream job, though, is to join the "MythBusters" team on the Discovery Channel, something he managed to do for a week after he designed a solar "death ray" that Archimedes could have used to set the Roman fleet afire during the siege of Syracuse in 213 B.C.
Bushroe's design came in response to a challenge issued by the show to its viewers: Design a full- or reduced-scale model of a device allegedly used to focus enough sunlight on the invading Roman fleet to set it afire.
It's a feat attributed to mathematician Archimedes, who also employed levers and pulleys to build better catapults in defense of Syracuse, the city-state on the island now called Sicily.
Bushroe found two versions of the Archimedes myth and decided to build both.
His scale-model was predicated on the story that Archimedes made polished shields for 100 soldiers who directed sunlight to a single spot.
Bushroe figured he would need 240 soldiers, represented by wooden posts arrayed on six levels, each with a 1-by-3-inch polished-brass shield.
For the full-scale model, Bushroe said he "couldn't afford a giant bronze mirror. I did a modern material substitution of sheet metal on plywood."
He used a silver coating to give the metal a reflective surface after discovering that the Romans used similar techniques in antiquity.
Bushroe spent 12 to 14 hours a day on the project and took two weeks' vacation to complete it. It was worth it, he said. "It's been a really exciting ride."
Did it work? Stop reading if you plan to watch.
No, really, stop.
Bushroe can't answer that question because of a nondisclosure agreement he signed, but reports published during the filming of the show indicate that none of the devices tested by "MythBusters" lived up to the name "death ray."