Attention The Big Bang Theory fans! Helen Pilcher talks to the hit TV comedy’s science consultant, particle physicist David Saltzberg from UCLA
How did you get involved in The Big Bang Theory?
Back in 2006, a friend of a friend of a friend who was a producer was putting the pilot together, and wanted advice from a local scientist. I read the script and corrected a piece of physics about Special Relativity. Then, when the show was commissioned, I became their science consultant. I had no idea that would last for 12 years.
Do you watch the show being filmed?
Yes, but it’s very rare they need me. Once Leonard dropped a bottle down an elevator shaft and the sound effects guy needed to know how long to wait before you hear the crash. I did that in my head while a live audience was waiting for the answer.
Do you get to add any jokes?
Not often. Once, Sheldon needed to tell a bad physics joke and I wrote it. When they recorded it the audience laughed, but then they edited out the laughter because it wasn’t meant to be funny!
Have you been in the show?
I was an extra in a cafeteria scene once, when Howard first starts dating Bernadette. I was only on-screen for a second, but my inbox the next day was filled with people who saw me.
Are any of the characters based on real life people?
Only very loosely. A long time ago, one of the co-creators worked with some people in the computer science world. That was the jumping-off point. Since then, the characters have all developed and now, after 250 episodes, it’s as if they’ve all become real people.
Do you work on spin-off series Young Sheldon?
Yes. In that, Sheldon is a kid… so instead of doing high-level discussions of particle physics or string theory, I get to do ninth grade chemistry homework!
What’s your biggest worry?
I constantly live in fear of making a mistake on the show. If I do, there’s a whole internet out there that will pile on. Part of my job is to be someone that the writers can forward hate mail on to!
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
I’ve always tried to work at the biggest atom smashers I can find. The best moment was when we discovered the top quark, the heaviest known particle ever discovered. We were all over the newspapers – it was very exciting.
What has The Big Bang Theory done for science?
Enrolment in physics at UCLA has tripled since I came here in the late 90s. If The Big Bang Theory shows people there’s a good life to be had from a career in science, I think that’s a positive outcome.
Dr David Saltzberg
is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles. Asteroid 8628 Davidsaltzberg is named after him.
“PART OF MY JOB IS TO BE SOMEONE THAT THE WRITERS CAN FORWARD HATE MAIL ON TO!”
The Big Bang team visited David’s students at home, but decided their digs were “too dark and gloomy” to be the model for Sheldon’s apartment. MY LIFE SCIENTIFIC