Who Says Science Isn’t Glamorous? Sometimes Hollywood Calls!
Do you think the land of sitcoms is completely mindless? Think again. The CBS sitcom, The Big Bang Theory has had a UCLA astrophysicist on its staff for all seven of its seasons. David Saltzberg, the show’s science consultant was recently interviewed by Science magazine. Here’s a look at what he had to say about this unconventional job.
As far as accuracy goes, Saltzberg says that the writers talk about how creating a believable world helps draw people into the story, and so have made the creative decision to portray real science on the show, even though he thinks the stories could be fine with “gonzo” science. For example, the whiteboards shown on the show contain accurate equations that can reflect recent events. It’s even become such a badge of honor for them to appear there, that scientists pitch their latest results to Saltzberg in an effort to get their own equations on the boards. Even scientists as prestigious as Stephen Hawking can be involved. The big discovery of gravitational waves, which indicated cosmological inflation, appeared on Hawking’s board, who was sent a photo of it and actually approved it himself.
Consulting to the show is time consuming, but Saltzberg seems to enjoy it because he plans to stick around until the series ends. It takes him a few hours per episode to review scripts and create the whiteboards, and a few more hours to attend the taping. But, much of this can be accomplished at night so that it doesn’t interfere with his teaching schedule. He can even telecommute via email from Antarctica, where he spends 2 or 3 months at a time. Saltzberg says, “The executive producer, Chuck Lorre, once said he thinks they’re the only sitcom that sends their scripts to Antarctica for vetting. I think he’s right.”
So, how do you get a gig like this? Saltzberg was approached by the show, but he suggests that interested scientists reach out to the Science & Entertainment Exchange, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences that connects scientists with the entertainment industry. Saltzberg is optimistic, that you too, can be a behind-the-scenes star. He says, “So send them an email, they’re very friendly. Tell them what your expertise is. They will probably call and talk to you about your expertise a little bit and then keep you on file. If you’re an expert in some particular type of feldspar and somebody wants to make a movie about that, they will make the connection.”