The delightfully nerdy The Big Bang Theory, which is gearing up for it’s eight season this September, is so chock full of science jokes it’s easy to wonder if some of them aren’t a little off. Does The Big Bang Theory always get its science right? If so, how?
For starters, actress Mayim Bialik, who plays Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler (she was also Blossom!) is a neuroscientist, so she’s able to keep check on the biology references. But the true person who keeps every joke and equation written on the white board in check is physicist David Saltzberg, who teaches at UCLA and studies high-energy particle physics and high-energy neutrino astronomy using radio-detection for his other day jobs.
His workload as a science consultant for the show is pretty big. He reviews every script and pretty much writes all the science parts himself. Scripts arrive with holes in the jokes that say “Insert Science Here,” and he obliges. Saltzberg also attends every taping of the show where he writes new formulas on the white boards, and makes last minute tweaks to props and jokes. The formulas themselves have a bit of a cult following themselves because of their freshness and accuracy.
He got the gig on the show after TBBT’s creators were first developing the idea and asked him to show them around some real graduate student apartments at UCLA. He’s been with the show ever since, and even had a small, nonspeaking cameo.
Saltzberg got his bachelor’s degree in physics from Princeton University, and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. He also did CERN, the European nuclear research center. During hiatuses from the show he flies scientific balloons in Antarctica works on the the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. A guy’s gotta have hobbies, right?
Of course, Saltzberg’s painstaking work on the show doesn’t mean that The Big Bang Theory is completely error free. Because he doesn’t craft the jokes themselves, and only inserts the science, there are bound to be some disconnects between the intended humor and what actually happens. That being said, it’s incredibly impressive for a show that packed full of science zingers to be so accurate most of the time.