In the interview, Gilligan put out a call for some feedback from a chemically inclined audience about the science in the now-runaway smash hit show, culminating in its final episode Sunday on AMC.
This is a wonderful opportunity, she thought. She took it.
We in science, it just drives us crazy when we see badly flawed science presented on television and in the movies. Its like fingernails on the blackboard, the teacher said during a recent interview in between classes at her campus office in Norman. Weve been complaining to each other about this for some time.
Nelson screened several episodes and was shocked by Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the lead character that breaks bad by transforming from a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher into a homicidal meth-manufacturing kingpin.
She decided shed help make a change, and she cooked up a way in which to do it.
I dont even know anyone that does drugs, she said. I had to look those things up to get the chemistry right.
Being a native of Eufaula, she also felt a responsibility to both the Oklahoma community and the scientific community to not simply glorify illegal drugs and their use.
I really thought a lot about what impact this show would have on children, but I cant imagine anyone watching this show and thinking, Yeah, thats the lifestyle for me, getting dragged through the sand and shot at, and getting beat up all the time. Nelsons goal in agreeing to help the show with getting the science right was to the help the community in general, and the scientific community specifically.
After watching a few episodes, she was hooked and likewise was Gilligan with her. Her input quickly became an asset to the shows overall tone and structure.
Gilligan wisely applied Nelsons chemistry knowledge to the improvement of Breaking Bad in more ways than one. When she first
met with the writers in California, they asked her about a chemistry
teachers general characteristics, how he would interact with students
in a lab and why someone might choose to be a high school chemistry
These basic questions helped them flesh out White.
long, writers also needed to know how many pounds of blue meth could
realistically be made from 30 gallons of methylamine a chemical White
and his former slacker student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) lifted from a
Soon, too, Nelson was a star in her own right, especially in science circles, she said that was both good and bad.
have been asked for my autograph a few times now ... but Ive also had
students ask me things like if I would know how to synthesize cocaine,
she said. The kids are fascinated by it. Ive
been on blogs where theyre arguing about the chemistry on the show and
starting a dialogue about science. Its fantastic. So it was absolutely
the right thing to do to get involved with the show.
On the circuit
asked about how she hopes the show will end, Nelson doesnt flinch. I
hope Skylar becomes stronger and a leader, that the people doing illegal
things are defeated, and the good scientists prevail, she said.
Her payoff for working with Breaking Bad (she
took no money) was seeing that the chemistry presented was sound enough
to keep the attention of viewers young enough to perhaps take a further
interest in science, she said.
I was growing up in Eufaula, I thought, What opportunities will I ever
have? so I want Oklahoma kids to know they can succeed through getting
out there, being persistent and being ready for opportunities when they
Nelson may have helped planned it that way. She admits that she has met nearly all the cast and crew of Breaking Bad.
And, while making the rounds as a consultant, she also met star David Saltzberg, science advisor for The Big Bang Theory, when she was a guest on the set of his Geek of the Week show.
What exactly does Nelson know about the shows upcoming finale?
She wont say.