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American Chemical Society

Hollywood screenwriters and scientists: More than an artistic collaboration

DENVER, Aug. 28, 2011 -- In this International Year of Chemistry (IYC), writers and producers for the most popular crime and science-related television shows and movies are putting out an all-points bulletin for scientists to advise them on the accuracy of their plots involving lab tests, crime scenes, etc., and to even give them story ideas.

They really do want to get it right, and this is very good news for young people who absorb the information from these shows, and this helps shape their positive career decisions. That's the message delivered here today by producers and writers from top television shows speaking at a special Presidential Event at the American Chemical Society's (ACS) 242nd National Meeting & Exposition.

Producers and writers for some of television's most popular medical, crime, science and science fiction shows today said they do strive for accuracy and ask more scientists to get involved and lend a hand in helping TV accurately portray science. They spoke at a symposium entitled "Science on the Hollywood Screen." In addition to CSI, other shows represented were Breaking Bad, CSI New York, Buffy, Battlestar and Torchwood.

"Science on the Hollywood Screen" is one of the meeting's special Presidential Events, and was co-organized by Nancy B. Jackson, Ph.D., ACS President, and Donna Nelson, Ph.D. Nelson, a chemist adviser for the six-time Emmy Award-winning AMC Channel show Breaking Bad, organized the program with Jackson and said Hollywood needs more scientists to volunteer to vet the scientific accuracy of scripts and storyboards.

"CSI is a great example of how a highly popular show can be both entertaining and make science understandable to the public," said Nelson, who is with affiliated with the University of Oklahoma and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The people who make TV shows and films really are interested in presenting science accurately. That's why they have been encouraging scientists like myself to serve as technical advisers. It's been great fun for me and I even have appeared in a cameo role on Breaking Bad."

The producers of this show are serious in striving for accuracy and realism, she said. For example, the credits at the start of Breaking Bad feature symbols of chemical elements from the Periodic Table. The symbols Br and Ba, which stand for the elements bromine and barium, are depicted in the title of the show.

Not only should chemists and other scientists volunteer to advise the staffs of these popular shows, Nelson said, but "we should offer script ideas. The writers and producers are open to this. The more collaboration we in our profession have with these shows and with Hollywood films, the more we can raise the public's awareness about the importance of science." She also contended that the better writers get to know scientists the better equipped they will be to accurately portray them.

With 2011 being the International Year of Chemistry (IYC), Nelson said that chemists have a perfect opportunity to help increase public awareness of chemistry's major role in improving everyday life.

Nelson said that the producers and writers in the symposium will discuss how -- with the help of advisers -- they accurately portray scientists at work and suggested how chemists and other scientists can help with scripts in the future. In addition, the symposium focused on new ideas and evaluated existing ones for better communicating science to the public.

Here are titles of presentations in the "Science on the Hollywood Screen" symposium, with summaries of the presentations:


The American Chemical Society is a non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

To automatically receive news releases from the American Chemical Society contact newsroom@acs.org.

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