Even though many people are not into science, they surely are into “The Big Bang Theory”(TBBT). To clarify, this is not THE big bang theory, but an American sitcom that revolves around the story of two physicists. For the most part, the characters on this sitcom banter about obscure scientific theories and crack science-related jokes. I’ll give you an example. One of the main leads, Sheldon, of this show, decides where to sit after observing the cushion density, airflow pattern and dispersion of sunlight. In short, this sitcom is centred around a bunch of physicists geeking out science. Which is a good thing, since it would educate the viewers and at the same time giving them something to laugh at. At least it is better than movies with bogus science.
1. String Theory
One of the main characters in “The Big Bang Theory” is Sheldon. Needless to say, many people tune in to this show to watch his performance. While he is not calculating the cushion density and airflow pattern, you can see him solve String theory. Hence there you can spot a lot of quantum-jargon on his dialogues. As a theoretical physicist, Sheldon’s main thesis is String Theory, and he believes it to be the future of modern science. Funny how people around him respond to his formulations.
Yet another character, Penny, a free-spirited neighbour, often gets in way of his work. Tired listening to Sheldon’s thesis, she makes fun of him saying, “It’s a string, how hard can it be”. On Season 11’s 13th episode, “Solo Oscillation”, you can see him explain String theory. To clarify, there are a lot of instances where he explains this theory, but this is the most recent one.
2. Loop Quantum Gravity
Sheldon’s best friend and theoretical physicist, Leonard supports String Theory. However, his girlfriend(another physicist), Leslie, roots for Loop Quantum Gravity. Little did he know that this difference in opinion will put their relationship in jeopardy. Just in case you are hearing Loop Quantum Gravity(LQG) for the first time, it is a theory that tries to merge quantum mechanics and general relativity. On Season 2’s second episode entitled, “The Codpiece Topology” you can see Sheldon debating with Leslie over this theory. In another episode, there is an excerpt where Sheldon replies back to Leonard, making fun of LQG. “Ooh, Duchess, look at me! My quantum gravity is positively loopy!”. Just so you know, he uses “Duchess” to sarcastically point out Leonard ripping off a Dutch scientist, we will get there soon.
3. Dark Matter
Although Sheldon works primarily on String Theory, he does formulate some thought experiments on other theories. Just like how he collaborated with an astrophysicist from the show, Raj, on dark matter. In Season 3’s 4th episode, they both study the annihilation spectrum resulting from dark matter collisions in space. Even though they didn’t make much progress, they did talk about dark matter for over 5 to 6 minutes. In addition to that, on “Solo Oscillation”, Sheldon talks of switching his focus to dark matter from string theory. Coming back to the real world, there are a lot researchers currently working on detecting dark matter
4. Aharonov-Bohm Effect
To spot this, one might require a good ear. Remember the Dutch researchers that Leonard is copying from? Turns out it was their work on the Aharonov-Bohm effect. This effect explains what happens to the wave-function near a magnetic field. Now, the Dutch researchers that Leonard is following, have found this effect on the electric field as well. The difference: the researchers passed electrons naturally around the sample, whereas Leonard was trying to do it more directly. In the end, both are quite similar! That’s why his girlfriend(after getting lessons from Sheldon) tells him his work is “no different than the experiment already conducted in the Netherlands”. Mind you, the Aharonov-Bohm effect is real, and it is showcased prominently on the 10th episode of Season 3.
5. Schrödingers Cat
Perhaps the best one yet, Season 1’s “Tangerine Factor” explains Schrödinger’s cat in layman terms. Schrödinger’s cat being one of the cornerstones in solving the quantum puzzle, it is very complex and hard to understand. It tells how a cat would be in a state of both dead and alive if it is being placed inside a box with a sealed vial of poison. The poison, however, is expected to break out at the random time. In this episode, Sheldon explains this thought experiment to Penny by drawing examples. He compares it with her potential relationship with Leonard, calling it “either good and bad”. Similar to how Schrödinger said the cat would be in a state of dead and alive, until opening the box.
6. Massless electrons and Graphene
When TBBT’s “The Einstein Approximation” was released, Graphene was a hot topic in science. In 2010, the Nobel Prize was awarded for scientists’ work on this material. The reason for this is that Graphene exhibits some unique properties. Electrons would seem to be massless while travelling through it. Surprised with this, Sheldon embarks on a mission to solve this puzzle. He was concerned as to how electrons would appear massless. On a quest to solve it, he begins assuming just about anything from marbles to giant balls, to represent electrons. Towards the end of the episode, Sheldon looks up to his idol Einstein to find ways to solve it. He starts working, just like how Einstein worked on a Patent office. Despite that, he still had no concrete developments.
7. Whole Brain Emulation
This is a funny one. On Season 4’s “The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification”, Sheldon finds out he will die before achieving immortality. According to him, “man will be able to transfer his consciousness into machines and achieve immortality”, in future. This is true. Whole Brain Emulation is a fact. Also known as brain upload, in future, the mental state of a particular brain substrate can be scanned and copied to a computer. Elon Musk’s Neuralink is sort of planning on achieving the same.
8. Augmented Reality(AR)
TBBT brought Augmented Reality to the public in the year 2011 through their Season 4’s “The Bus Pants Utilisation”. In this episode, Leonard and Sheldon are working on a mobile application. An application, capable of solving differential equations by taking a photo of it. This is one among the many applications of AR. Science aside, this episode is funny and shows how Sheldon asserts dominance in all the fields he is involved in.
9. Superfluid Vacuum Theory
Season 8’s “Troll Manifestation” shows how a scientist reacts to an internet bully. Although it is not accurate, the science behind the theory that started this war of words was accurate. Shortly after Leonard and Sheldon published their work on Superfluid Vacuum Theory to “Quantum diaries physics blog”. Even though their work was praised, there was one internet troll that called their work “meaningless”. According to the troll, their “analogy between space-time and supercooled fluid” was inappropriate. I don’t mean to spoil your surprise, but later on, it was revealed that this troll was one of the renowned scientists. Perhaps, the most popular one in modern physics.
I saved this one for the last, just to set things up a bit. As discussed before, Sheldon is obsessed with String theory and has been working on it for 20 years. However, along with his girlfriend, Amy, he finally finds a breakthrough in the form of Super-asymmetry. Towards the end of this series, both of them would receive a Nobel Prize for this thesis. Now, this particular theory has an interesting backstory. There is no such theory. The only thing that’s remotely close to it is Supersymmetry. But, don’t think this is entirely fictional. “The Big Bang Theory” team approached their science consultant Dr Saltberg, before including this on their series. As said before, it is closer to supersymmetry. Which explains the existence of a “supersymmetric partner” that exists in tandem with a subatomic particle. Super-asymmetry theory, however, “describes an imperfect world”, according to Sheldon.