The science of Breaking Bad: Peekaboo

Breaking Bad : Season 2 : Episode 6: “Peekaboo”

Walt in the teaching lab.

Walt in the teaching lab.

Walt is finally back at school, having had his position in the Albuquerque premium drug trade made clear, and Jesse is attempting to cement his own position. Both are dealing with some potentially ruinous family issues. In this post, I’ll be talking about carbon.

You can read more about this episode at AMC, IMDb and the A.V. Club.


Walt’s class, or at least the part of it we get to see, is all about carbon (you may remember it from such videos as Carbon, which Carmen showed to Walt’s students back in season one). Carbon is the chemical basis for all life as we know it, due to its unparalleled ability to form large, complicated molecules that combine and interact in biological systems. Before focusing on a pure form of carbon (diamond), Walt mentions some general classes of unsaturated hydrocarbons:

Monoalkenes Also called monoenes, these are hydrocarbons containing one carbon-carbon double bond
Diolefins More properly called dienes, these are hydrocarbons containing two carbon-carbon double bonds
Trienes As the name implies, these are hydrocarbons containing three carbon-carbon double bonds
Polyenes As the name implies, these are hydrocarbons containing multiple carbon-carbon double bonds (technically, di- and trienes are also polyenes)

The diagrams on the blackboard support the first case in Walt’s sequence. H2C=CH2 (ethene), H2C=CH-CH2-CH3 (but-1-ene) and H3C-CH2-CH=CH-CH2-CH3 (hex-3-ene) are all examples of monoenes. The cyclic structure at the bottom does not appear to make sense, and it may be incomplete (three of the carbon atoms do not have enough bonds made for the molecule to be stable).

Walt's molecule and cyclohexene

Walt's molecule and cyclohexene

Walt has also managed to misspell “alkene” – the title on the blackboard is “mono-alkelenes” (see photo).

Moving on to pure carbon, Walt starts talking about synthetic diamonds and a key figure in their development, H. Tracy Hall. Hall’s research team managed to refine the process of creating artificial diamonds using high temperatures and pressures, but (as Walt points out) General Electric were initially not too thrilled and Hall took his marbles and went back to Utah, later inventing an even better procedure. Diamond is one of carbon’s several allotropes – forms of the element that have the same composition (in this case, carbon) but different structures. The most common allotropes of carbon are amorphous (no crystal structure), diamond and graphite.

Allotropes of carbon

Allotropes of carbon

Elements in the credits

Breaking Bromine
Bad Barium
Created Chromium
Bryan Cranston Bromine
AnNa Gunn Sodium
AAron Paul Argon
DeaN Norris Nitrogen
Betsy Brandt Beryllium
RJ MitTe Tellurium
Jessica Hecht Helium
Dale DickeY Yttrium
David Ury Uranium
Carmen SErano Erbium
KelleY Dixon Yttrium
Robb Wilson King Tungsten
MiChael Slovis No such element
Dave Porter Polonium
Sharon Bialy Sulfur
SherrY Thomas Yttrium
Sam Catlin Calcium
StewArt A. Lyons Argon
Melissa Bernstein Beryllium
John ShiBan Barium
Mark JOhnson Oxygen
Karen Moore Molybdenum
J RobErts Erbium
Vince Gilligan Vanadium
PeTer Medak Tellurium

I’m not sure why Michael Slovis wasn’t assigned iodine (I), carbon (C), hydrogen (H), sulfur (S), oxygen (O) or vanadium (V).


3 Responses to The science of Breaking Bad: Peekaboo

  1. […] of carbon, as well as elements like hydrogen and nitrogen, which like to interact with carbon in all kinds of badass ways. Lots of other elements on earth – most of them, in fact – don’t play a major […]

  2. That drawing on the board always bugged me too. What the ? I bet you’re right that they meant for it to be cyclohexene.

  3. […] Weak Interactions – The Science of Breaking Bad: Peekaboo […]

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