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Fermilab | Batavia, IL | USA

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Big Bang Theory gives CDF result a publicity bump


An astute viewer of the Big Bang Theory TV show from the school of physics at Georgia Tech noticed that the white board in Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment had on it a plot for a result from the CDF experiment at Fermilab. The image of the plot from the episode was posted on the school’s Facebook site and later the Internet.

And not just any plot. The plot.

The one that has caused debate in the blogosphere and media and put the Tevatron’s two collider experiments at odds.

April 7 CDF announced it had seen an unexpected spike in its data, “a bump” as physicists call it,  that potentially could signal a new particle or force, but more data was needed to know for sure. Science lovers jumped at the news and speculations about what this could mean abounded.

Discussions took a turn when DZero’s results released June 10 found no such bump.

The experiments will continue to analyze larger data sets and compare data until “the bump” is verified or disputed beyond a doubt. So stay tuned. I’m sure the Big Bang Theory writers will.

George Smoot (in Sheldon's seat, no less!) on the set of Big Bang Theory. Photo courtesy of George Smoot.

Scientists help advise the show’s writers, and the show has a history of making references to current experiments or leaders in the field. And sometimes physicists even make cameos.

In 2009 Nobel laureate George Smoot, professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, research physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a confessed fan of the show, agreed to appear in the episode.

The show averages about 9 million viewers a week but not all physicists are fans. In a symmetry magazine article Jennifer Ouellette Science blogger and author of the Buffyverse came her critique of the show and the high-energy physics communities reaction to it.

Personally I think the community should embrace the program. I think the public is smart enough to recognize the stereotypes and formulaic dating plots for what they are and not a documentary-type representation of physicists. Plus the show exposes people to the science, which is never a bad thing. I have met many people who had never heard of particle physics prior to watching the Big Bang Theory or reading “Angles and Demons”.  While not all of these people were enticed to learn more about particle physics, some were, and no one came away with a negative view of the science.  

—  Tona Kunz


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