‘The Big Bang Theory’ bid adieu to its fans last year, after 12 long years of being considered one of the best sitcoms to hit television screens. While the show consistently served its dose of funny and emotional moments, it was predominantly a show about characters that were trying to make it big in the world of science.
For a sitcom which had six of its seven major characters working in the field of science by the end of the last season, it did manage to get a lot of its scientific theories right. These were complicated theories for characters that ranged from physicists (Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper), aerospace engineers (Howard Wolowitz) to astrophysicists (Raj Koothrappali), and later neuroscientist (Amy Farrah Fowler) and microbiologist (Bernadette Rostenkowski). Only Penny was away from science and was a good source for the writers to simplify complicated theories for its viewers.
So how did ‘The Big Bang Theory’ manage to consistently get their science right, while never compromising on the storytelling and fun moments? Well, the secret lies in a special recruitment made by the writing team. The secret recruitment was David Salzburg, a physicist who worked with the showrunners as a scientific consultant. Salzburg has a bachelor’s degree in physics from Princeton University and a PhD in physics from the University of Chicago.
Add to this his post-doctoral fellowship at CERN, the European Nuclear Research Centre, and you have the perfect man to go over scripts and make sure the scientific jokes and theories are on point, at least most of the times.
The “most of the time” point is being hammered over and over again because Chuck Lorre’s sitcom about science did manage to make a few goof-ups over its 12 seasons. To be fair to the showrunners, and Salzburg, these mistakes couldn’t be avoided considering TBBT was a sitcom. Other aspects of the characters’ lives were supposed to be dealt with while maintaining the comic and emotional factor of the show. Science couldn’t take a backseat, but it had to also fit in with the show’s overarching story-line for its characters.
Hence, mistakes were bound to happen. For example, the time when Sheldon pinpoints that the sound created from hitting a wine glass is B-flat, when in fact it’s a B. Now Sheldon might be a genius in the field of physics and may have tremendous theoretical knowledge about other fields, but one can excuse him for getting music and dance theories wrongs.
The show also delves into a story-line in season 5 when Howard Wolowitz goes for a space trip with a couple of Russian astronauts. Considering Howard’s genetic risk towards heart disease, as well as his idiopathic arrhythmia, he would never have been cleared to be on such a trip in the first place. But, in the show, Howard’s character needed this space trip because it was the only way Sheldon was going to consider him a man doing meaningful work in the field of science. This trip helps Howard stand up to Sheldon’s bullying.
Even the final theory, “The Super Asymmetry Theory”, which gets Sheldon his long-awaited Nobel Prize along with his wife and partner Amy Farrah Fowler, is incorrect. Actually, it does not even exist. Though “Super Symmetry” is a theory that exists, and a team of 3000 people have been working on it for years. But TBBT had to end with Sheldon winning a Nobel Prize, and we can give the showrunners a benefit of doubt since coming up with a real Nobel Prize winning theory takes years and years of investment and manpower.
Besides these goof-ups and some other minor ones, ‘The Big Bang Theory’ has managed to get most of their theories and jokes right. From Sheldon’s use of the “Schrodinger’s Cat” theory to explain to Penny and Leonard their relationship status to “The Immortality of Jellyfish” theory were all on point. But Sheldon wasn’t just giving us insight into complicated scientific theories, he was also giving the regular world some sound scientific advice to help in daily chores. Like how refrigerating bread causes it to turn stale faster. He describes that staleness in bread is caused by the crystallization of starch molecules at cold temperatures.
And even though the show uses Sheldon in reel-life as the brain behind these wonderful theories and scientific jokes most of the times, the man behind them in real life was David Salzburg. The real-life physicist was also the same man who provided the scientific equations on the whiteboard which kept changing with nearly every scene.
Talking to Wired.com in 2011, Salzburg had explained, “In general they’ll say, ‘We’re thinking of a certain kind of episode … We’re thinking of sending the guys to the Antarctic. Can you think of what kind of experiment they might be working on?’”
“Then I’ll think for a couple of days or a week and send them suggestions as they come up. When I get a normal script, I basically just open another editing session next to it and as I’m reading it, I put down my thoughts or changes.”
“I usually give them a few options. Then I send the whole thing over to them. I try to figure out [what they want], but I can’t really tell. I understand about as much of that as if a writer walked into our lab here.”
Speaking of the Antarctic, it is also a successful science theory executed by the makers of the show along with David Salzburg. In season 2, when Sheldon wins the National Science Foundation Grant, he invites his three best friends to search for magnetic monopoles (magnets with one pole). The group returns after 3 months, after failing to find any such magnets. The narrative is accurate as even in real life, science has been unsuccessful in proving the theory of magnetic monopoles.
While Salzburg did most of the scientific consultation on the show, there was one cast member that came in handy when it came to making sure the neuroscience and biology references were accurate. And that was none other than, Mayim Bialik, better known as Amy Farrah Fowler to fans of the sitcom. What the fans might not know is that their favourite reel-life neuroscientist actually holds a real-life PhD in neuroscience too.
Now when you have such people on your team helping you, on and off the screen, it would be difficult to not make a successful show. Let us know what you think about this read. And if you have any more scientific findings about ‘The Big Bang Theory’ do share it in the comments section below.