Hollywood Comes To ACS At #ACSAnaheim

Today’s Newscripts post from Anaheim comes to us from Assistant Managing Editor Sophie Rovner:

Moira Walley-Becket (left) gives the inside story on "Breaking Bad." Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN

Hollywood writers brought a touch of glamour to a standing-room-only symposium at the ACS national meeting yesterday. Writers for “Breaking Bad,” “Eureka,” “House M.D.” and other TV series admitted they found their audience of chemists intimidating but with self-deprecating good humor shared their philosophy for trying to make their shows scientifically sound.

“Breaking Bad” follows a high school chemistry teacher dying of lung cancer who cooks and sells crystal meth to support his family after his pending death. Moira Walley-Becket, one of the show’s seven writers, said that “getting the science right is of the utmost importance to us.” After all, she noted, “we need to know how to dissolve a body in acid.”

Bryan Cranston plays high school chemistry teacher and meth maker Walter White in "Breaking Bad." Credit: Doug Hyun/Sony Pictures Television

She said the writers turn for help to “the brilliant and tolerant” Donna J. Nelson, a chemistry professor at the University of Oklahoma, in Norman. Nelson volunteered for the gig after reading in C&EN that the show had to do its research on the Internet because it couldn’t afford a paid science adviser. Here’s a typical knotty problem: “Using the P2P method, how much meth could you synthesize with 30 gallons of methylamine?” (Answer: 223 lbs.)

Other scientists have found their way to Hollywood through the Science & Entertainment Exchange, a National Academy of Sciences program that connects entertainment industry professionals with scientists and engineers to help bring cutting-edge science to their stories.

Kevin R. Grazier, a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab who clearly relishes his role as science adviser to “The Zula Patrol,” “Battlestar Galactica,” and other TV series, conceded that many scientists hesitate to work in Hollywood because it’s perceived as shallow. But as ACS President Nancy B. Jackson noted in her introduction to the symposium, there are many innovative ways of communicating with the public about science, including storytelling.

Author: Lauren Wolf

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