Ever since people started building things, many of us have burned with an even greater desire to take them apart.
But few can top photographer Todd McLellan and Ryan D’Agostino, editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics. They get to the bottom of big and complicated things on a monthly basis.
Like a skilled pathologist, McLellan has spent hundreds of hours dismantling, describing, neatly organizing and photographing the guts of a chainsaw, the “Iron Mike” pitching machine and, most recently, a GE electrocardiograph, among a number of other things. D’Agostino publishes the results in his magazine in a regular monthly feature called Things Come Apart. “Understanding how things work is empowering,” D’Agostino says. “That’s what the magazine has been about since it launched in 1902. It never gets old.”
D’Agostino, who took over the magazine last year, and his editorial team first took apart a refrigerator. “But we soon noticed that Todd had been already doing the same thing for a while,” he says.
In 2013, McLellan published a whole book featuring 50 stylized teardowns ranging from iPad to grand piano. “He was making a bit of a career with it,” D’Agostino says.
In mid-2014, D’Agostino reached out to McLellan and they’ve been at it ever since.
McLellan’s latest project was GE’s MAC 2000 EKG machine. It took him 5 hours and 21 minutes to dismantle it and you can see a video of the process here. “EKG is something people encounter in their lives, they’ve seen it in the doctor’s office, they are gratified it’s there, but most of them have no idea what’s going on inside,” D’Agostino says.
The heart is a muscle and like all muscles it generates electricity. The EKG machine monitors the heart’s electrical activity and help doctors determine whether it is beating strong or whether things are out of order. “One thing that surprised me was the instrumentation amplifier, which boosts the signals from millivolts to volts,” D’Agostino says.
Next on Popular Mechanics’ list is the payphone. Does D’Agostino ever worry about putting things back again? “Reassembling these items isn’t feasible,” he says. “They would never be the same. But we do recycle the parts!”