‘Breaking Bad’ Aliquots

Today's post was written by C&EN Senior Editor Jyllian Kemsley, who, when she isn't watching the TV show "Breaking Bad," enjoys surfing the Web for "Breaking Bad" links and then writing about them. The end is almost here, and the Internet is gearing up. With the series finale of "Breaking Bad" set to air this Sunday on AMC, media outlets have unleashed a barrage of retrospectives and stories about the hit TV show. What's more, a surprising number of these tributes actually focus on the science behind the show. Take, for instance, the above video in which Boing Boing counts down the top 11 "Breaking Bad" chemistry moments. Or, simply pick up this week’s issue of C&EN, in which I have a story about Donna Nelson, a University of Oklahoma chemistry professor who has spent the last several years volunteering as a science adviser to the television show. I connected Nelson with show producer Vince Gilligan after I first wrote about the show in 2008—something Nelson has graciously acknowledged in many interviews—and I enjoyed chatting with her as the series nears its end. To help all of us get through the last few days before the finale, here are a few of my favorite “Breaking Bad” offerings from across the Web. If, like some of my colleagues, you didn’t get the memo early enough and are only on season two, tread carefully—I won’t promise no spoilers!
  • Wired interviewed some other “Breaking Bad” staff who help get the science right, researchers Gordon Smith and Jenn Carroll: “One day, Gordon and the writers asked me to figure out a way to knock out a surveillance camera, or—at the very least—to make a passerby invisible to the camera. As you might imagine, there aren’t many legal or convenient ways to go about this.”
  • The Washington Post went over what “Breaking Bad” gets right, and wrong, about the meth business: “Could a genius innovator like Walt really become this successful? Are charismatic businessmen like Gus Fring running front businesses to hide their meth trade? Are super labs real?”
  • "Today" talked “Breaking Bad” science and Walter White psychology with the show’s co-executive producer Peter Gould: “We went online and found this way of making a battery using pennies,” Gould said. “We actually built one in the writers' room. It created a mild amount of current, and was sort of our proof of concept. Every once in a while, there would be a science experiment right there in the writers' room. It turned out to be kind of a big mess.”
  • At Slate, physician Haider Javed Warraich called “Breaking Bad” “TV’s best medical drama, ever": “While most medical shows—much like the health system at large—focus on acute presentations, hospitalizations, and procedures, 'Breaking Bad' follows its patients far beyond the walls of the hospital.”
  • Bytesize Science caught Donna Nelson on camera.
  • Last but not least, if you’re really desperate to fill your “Breaking Bad” hankering, let me suggest Reddit: general and chemistry-specific.

Author: Jeff Huber

Jeff Huber is an associate editor at C&EN. He enjoys finding peculiar news stories that make him laugh and/or tilt his head in a thoughtful manner. This hobby has served him well as a contributor to the Newscripts blog.

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  1. @qvxb – That looks interesting! I just added it to my reading queue.

    I also just learned that Donna Nelson edited a book on “Hollywood Chemistry: When Science Met Entertainment,” stemming from symposia at a couple of recent ACS meetings. It’s available online at http://pubs.acs.org/isbn/9780841228245

  2. Wow thank you for a great article! I really doubted in fact are all the chemistry tricks shown in BB plausible. I don’t suppose that the fact of making blue metamphetamine is possible at all (that perfectly blue pure one they got for the first time, this soundrack was on http://blablamp3.com/mp3/on-a-clear-day-you-can-see-forever.html if you remember that scene) However nobody in reality has seen blueish meth. Yellowish or pinkish- yes, but blue, well, seems just a myth.

  3. @Nadja–I think the blue color should probably be chalked up to artistic license. I think it also predates Donna Nelson’s participation in the show (I can’t recall now whether the blue showed up in the first season or later). You might be interested to know that the “crystals” shown on the screen are actually chunks of silicone that are typically used in special effects to mimic broken glass.

  4. Saturday Night Live this week had a sketch in the form of a commercial for an electronic cigarette-like device with a bulbous end for smoking meth, called E-Meth. It ends with an actor saying “Ya know it’s good because it’s blue [bad word]”.