Real Science We Learned From The Big Bang Theory

The science on <i>The Big Bang Theory</i> is totally real

The science on The Big Bang Theory is totally real

The Big Bang Theory has done more than make us laugh. It has also taught us some pretty cool stuff!

Particle astrophysicist David Saltzberg is the go-to science guy for The Big Bang Theory. He plans the craziness that appears on the white boards, he adds scientific props to the set, and he adds science-y lines to the show's script. He also manages The Big Blog Theory, a blog full of bonus facts connected to the episodes. With his help, here's what we've learned ...  

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
(Inset via Corbis)


 
Topological insulators are pretty cool

Topological insulators are pretty cool

Sheldon is an incredibly smart scientist, but perhaps he's an even better professor. He blew minds with one of his lectures explaining "topological insulators." Wait, but what are those? 

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.

 
In the tin

In the tin

During a lecture, Sheldon shared the strange activity of "topological insulators," a material that is both an insulator and a conductor. It turns out the topological insulators are real, and conduct electricity on the surface of materials like tin. What does this get us? How about room-temperature superconductors, which could lead to faster electronics? Hello, lightening-fast smart phones! 

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
 
 
That's a long word

That's a long word

In "The Bozeman Reaction," Sheldon mentions the Gedankenexperiment. That's a mouthful of true science, folks! But what does it mean? 

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.

 
Gedankenexperiment means

Gedankenexperiment means "thought experiment" in German

Use that to wow your super-smart friends. 

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.

 
Stephen Hawking is a real troll

Stephen Hawking is a real troll

In "The Troll Manifestation," Sheldon and Leonard are hounded by an Internet bully (who happens to be Stephen Hawking) regarding a physics research paper they're working on. So, what got this magnificent troll so worked up? 

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
Spacetime could behave like a liquid

Spacetime could behave like a liquid

Sheldon and Leonard's submitted theory – aptly titled The Cooper-Hofstadter paper – is all about superfluid vacuum theory, an idea that envisions a fundamental physical vacuum as a superfluid. In the science world, this idea is considered a "fringe theory," supported by only a small group of scientists. Stephen Hawking is not one of the scientists that fully backs the theory, which led him to poke fun at Sheldon and Leonard online.

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
Lanthanides and lanthanoids are not the same thing

Lanthanides and lanthanoids are not the same thing

In "The Love Car Displacement," Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler set all of us straight by explaining that, though the words sound similar, a lanthanide and a lanthanoid are NOT interchangeable. The only correct term for the elements shown at the bottom of every periodic table (because they just don't fit in with those other elements) is "lanthanoid," according to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. And they would know!

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
The human brain goes quantum

The human brain goes quantum

In several episodes, Sheldon and Beverly Hofstadter, Leonard's mother, work to verify the Quantum Brain Dynamics theory. But what even is that? It's pretty cool ... 

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
Robots can never be human

Robots can never be human

Simply put, here's the idea:  Brains don't just give us the ability to hear, see, taste, and feel. They also use quantum mechanics to create consciousness. If the theory is true, it means that robots could never completely do what we do as humans, putting a halt to our fears of a machine revolt.

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
Sheldon's got jokes

Sheldon's got jokes

The white boards on The Big Bang Theory have a story of their own. This one, from one of the show's first episodes, has a hefty math problem that's actually a joke. It's a play on the Born-Oppenheimer Approximation, which is basically a mathematical shortcut. Do you see the joke? 

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
You can solve for

You can solve for "LOL"

Quantum chemical calculations are extensive and really tough to solve. There is a cheat called the Born-Oppenheimer Approximation. Though it's much faster,  the BO Approximation doesn't give the best results. The joke here is that Sheldon takes his time to work out the problem completely because shortcuts are for slackers. 

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
There's a reason memes go viral

There's a reason memes go viral

In "The Herb Garden Germination," Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler posits that gossip is like a living organism that seeks to reproduce, using humans as their hosts. Turns out, that's a very real concept, and it's called the Meme theory. #deep.

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
 
An infinite number of Sheldons still wouldn't dance

An infinite number of Sheldons still wouldn't dance

When Penny asks Sheldon to dance in "The Gothowitz Deviation," he uses the Many Worlds Theory to decline in the most overly-intelligent way possible:

"Penny, while I subscribe to the Many Worlds Theory, which posits the existence of an infinite number of Sheldons in an infinite number of universes, I assure you that in none of them am I dancing." 

The Many Worlds Theory or Interpretation is a sub-genre of quantum mechanics that argues that we all exist in multiple, semi-connected worlds simultaneously. A simple "no" just isn't Sheldon's style. 

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
 
Everybody has been to Flatland

Everybody has been to Flatland

In "The Psychic Vortex," Sheldon takes a trip to Flatland. In real life, Flatland is a novel about a fictitious place with two dimensions as opposed to our three. Physics, math, and engineering students are all very familiar with Flatland, as the book is basically required reading in their studies.

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
Extra credit: find the scientist

Extra credit: find the scientist

Ready for a bonus? There's a real scientist in The Big Bang Theory cast. You probably already know exactly who it is. You're smart like that. 

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.
The real scientist on <i>The Big Bang Theory</i>

The real scientist on The Big Bang Theory

That's right! Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler is played by Mayim Bialik, who has a PhD in neuroscience, as well as a Masters in being straight up awesome. 

Watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS.