The Heartland Theory: Physicists weigh-in on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ as series ends

Updated: May. 16, 2019 at 8:40 PM CDT
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(KFVS) - “The Big Bang Theory” is about a group of scientists who are incredibly smart but are not the most comfortable in social situations.

It airs on KFVS12 and has a good following with the physics communities at Southeast Missouri State University and Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The show centers around physicists Dr. Sheldon Cooper and Dr. Leonard Hofstadter who are physicists at the California Institute of Technology. While the characters are fictional the university is real and is one of the top institutions in the world. Physics professors and students at some of our Heartland institutions are naturally drawn to the sitcom.

“Oh, it’s one of my favorite shows,” said Dr. Michael Cobb, a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Southeast Missouri State University. “I think the writing and the editing and the whole production is just very well done. And I like the technical aspects of it as well."

Dr. Jonathan Kessler, an Assistant Professor of Physics at Southeast Missouri State University says people associate him with the characters on the show.

“I remember being a graduate student whenever it was in its second or third season, and people would actually meet me out in public at social events and says you’re a physicist? Like, The Big Bang Theory?”

So how accurate is the physics terminology used on the show?

“So, there are definitely some minor mistakes, but they do a really great job of bringing modern physics issues to the forefront of society,” said Dr. Kessler.

It’s not just Heartland physics professors the show has impacted. Graduate and undergraduate physics students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale say the show has impacted their lives as well.

Prasanna Patil is getting his PhD in applied physics at SIU. Patil is from India and said The Big Bang Theory played a role in him deciding to do his graduate studies in the United States.

“One of the big impacts the show had on me is it sparked my interest in the U.S.,” said Patil. “When I was looking for my graduate studies toward my last year, the US was one of the options because I heard a lot about the U.S. from the show.”

Each of the scientists we spoke with said they find a little bit of themselves in a character on the show. Dinuka Gallaba, who is getting his PHD in physics at SIU said he relates to the character Leonard.

“His research is totally different from mine, but I kind of like him,” said Gallaba.

Sarah Hagen is an undergraduate physics major and researcher at SIU, and said because she’s focusing on theoretical physics, she draws comparisons to the shows lead character. “People always call me a Sheldon. I think it’s the theoretical physics angle. My mom calls me Sheldon.”

Hagen said the legacy of The Big Bang Theory may be in sparking more interest in science.

“It has encouraged younger people to go into physics or find some interesting things in physics. The show relates those concepts to everyday life,” said Hagen.

The popular CBS sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory” wraps up its run on Thursday, May 16 after 12 seasons on the air.

  • Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik learned how to play the theremin and harp respectively for the show.
  • Sheldon and Leonard are named after famous TV producer, Sheldon Leonard. He was an executive producer on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”
  • There is only one set of stairs on the set.
  • The original working title was “Lenny, Penny, and Kenny.”
  • Wil Wheaton’s house number in the show (1701) is the same as the hull number of the USS Enterprise (NCC 1701-D).
  • Mayim Bialik (Amy) is the only cast member to have a PhD. In 2008 she completed her Neuroscience studies.
  • The cast of the “The Big Bang Theory” were immortalized in the cement at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood with a handprint ceremony with all seven series regulars on May 1. “The Big Bang Theory” was the first TV show, with no feature film connection, to receive the honor.
  • When the show wraps in May, it will be the longest running multi-camera comedy in television history with 279 episodes. “Cheers” previously held the record with 275.
  • In addition to centering many of its episodes in the worlds of science and technology, “The Big Bang Theory” enjoys a healthy appreciation and support from the scientific community at large, including have a bee species (Euglossa bazinga), a jellyfish species (Bazinga Rieki) and a monkey at the Columbus Zoo (Dr. Sheldon Cooper) named in the show’s honor.
  • The show has also featured many scientists and icons from the STEM community including Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Buzz Aldrin, Mike Massamino, Bill Nye, Elon Musk, etc.
  • In 2015, the first-ever UCLA scholarship created by and named for a television series, The Big Bang Theory Scholarship, was established to support undergraduate students in need of financial aid pursuing their higher education in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
  • Seven Nobel Laureates have visited the set, and three have appeared on the show.
  • The series has received 52 Emmy nominations and 10 wins to date, though it has never won four Outstanding Comedy Series, and seven Golden Globe nominations.

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