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Want to Learn Chemistry? Turn on the TV.

We know about the CSI effect, but what about other sciences on TV? Can shows we watch influence our understanding of, say, math and chemistry? According to producers of AMC’s “Breaking Bad“, TV can not only affect how millions of people view chemistry and science: it already does. “It’s great to see chemistry become cool again,” said Ross Kozarsky, a chemical engineer by training who advises chemical and materials companies at Lux Research. The show focuses on high school chemistry teacher Walter White (played by the incredible Bryan Cranston), who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and has decided to use his chemistry know-how to make… well, meth. All for the purpose of leaving behind a large sum of financial security for his family after his death. The plot is undoubtedly questionable, but that’s where the entire premise of the show really shines (and explains how the show’s title hints at moral implications). What really makes the show appeal to viewers is when the character has to use his nerdy know-how to come up with something truly innovative. The cable TV show has attracted more than 1.6 million people to tune-in, and a large number of those viewers are chemistry geeks. Fans of the show get a glimpse at real science, with real attention paid to even the most trivial details. “I put a premium on us getting the details right in every aspect of the show,” said Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator. “Chemistry is all about molecules and substances undergoing a change from one state into another.” Apparently the entire chemistry industry is hooked on the show. Viewers are starting to see exactly what science and chemistry can do. Though anyone who tunes-in hoping to see how to make their own crystal meth (a major, killer drug) won’t get the answers they’re looking for. From a recent Reuter’s article on the show: “Different sequences of more than one process to make the drug are used in the show. . . It’s like putting the head of the horse on the tail of a tiger. . .There’s no way that anybody could follow what’s on television and have an authentic synthesis.” The show does get people excited about chemistry though. The science behind it, the preciseness of it all. The mixing of compounds and numbers and equations and all that really gets people excited about the nerdy aspects of it all. With shows like “CSI” and “Breaking Bad” viewers are not just sitting idly by as passengers in a developmental story. No, anyone who watches these shows is learning, about crime and law and raw science. There’s a lot of people who believe that TV is all bad and that no good can come of it, but these shows are showing us that there is a lot of good that can come from quality entertainment. “Making chemistry a secondary character in the show likely will attract some viewers to science careers and help others better appreciate it,” Gilligan said. If you want to learn a thing or two about chemistry (and enjoy a captivating plot with some devilishly clever characters and twists), “Breaking Bad” is something worth considering. What other shows do you find leading the frontier of educating viewers while also giving us something entertaining to watch?

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