What is this blog about?

Science communication. The portrayal of science in the media is not always very accurate or easy to understand, so I thought it would be an interesting project to try and explain some of the things I’ve been seeing in films and shows. Currently, I’m watching Breaking Bad and Fringe.

Who are you, and are you qualified to write about this?

I’m a science officer with the British government, used to be a lecturer at a large university in South Korea, and did my MSci and PhD in chemistry back in the UK. I’m therefore highly qualified as a scientist; less so as a science communicator.

What are weak interactions, and why is the blog named after them?

In particle physics, the weak interaction (often called the weak nuclear force) is a fundamental interaction responsible for some nuclear properties. In chemistry, however, the term refers to various intermolecular forces that are not as strong as chemical bonds. Typical examples include hydrogen bonding, Van der Waals forces and ionic forces.

This blog is about science communication, and when I came up with the idea I envisaged readers drifting in and altering their perceptions slightly by learning something. This process is analogous to chemical interactions such as crystallisation, where weak intermolecular forces direct incoming molecules into more favourable positions.

What’s the molecule at the top of the page?

It’s a zoomed-in view of an adenine molecule and a thymine molecule associating with each other by hydrogen bonding. This weak interaction is how DNA’s sugar-phosphate backbone forms its characteristic double helix, and is analogous to the storage and transfer of information.

Can you write about this show/film/article I saw/read?

Very likely, if I can get hold of a copy of it and I have enough free time. Leave a comment on this page with some information about it and I’ll take a look if I can.

I don’t understand something you’ve written. Can you explain it in more detail?

Yes – just leave a comment on the relevant post or page with some more details and I’ll go back and rewrite sections to make them easier to understand. I don’t expect to get all my explanations right first time, so all feedback is helpful.

Can you tell me how to make crystal meth?

No. I don’t know how to, and even if I did it’s a bit of a silly idea.


9 Responses to FAQ

  1. Stephen says:

    This is a great site. Breaking Bad reignited my interest in chemistry, and you are giving us the scientific ‘back-story.’

  2. Thank you for your excellent blog. It has been part of the inspiration for setting up my own blog dedicated to the chemistry in Breaking Bad.

  3. JWK says:

    I’m sure we’ve all seen the gruesome photos of meth heads before and after they began using. I have read that the shocking deterioration, the facial sores, the rotten gums allowing teeth to move around or fall out, etc, etc, are due to the adulterants that are present in amateur quality meth. If you could produce a Heisenberg quality product, free of adulterants, what sort of health problems would be eliminated and what problems might remain or perhaps be worsened by the increased strength of the active ingredient?

    • John says:

      Sorry, forgot to reply to this! My thoughts run along the same line as Gus’s (run a search for “meth mouth” if you really want to know more about this horrible condition).

  4. Gus Morgan says:

    From what I understand, rotten teeth in meth users is due to a lack of saliva from drug use. Many psychotropic drugs cause dry mouth and it must be similar with meth. When saliva is not present or lacking, amylase is also lacking. Amylase is an enzyme necessary to break down carbohydrates in the mouth. Since many meth users do not eat nutritious meals and tend to consume sugary sodas, the rotten teeth are caused by sugar not breaking down and literally rotting the teeth. IMO, “better quality” meth would not change this.

  5. Gus Morgan says:

    I would like to know if anyone can explain how Walt did not dilute his own 1000 gallons of methylamine? It seems he waited until there was about 300 gallons of Methylamine in his tank before starting the water into the tanker car however according to Walt’s explanation, water is more dense than methylamine and since the water was being filled directly above where the methylamine was being drained, it seems that walt’s tank would be diluted by his own water. Please explain.

    • John says:

      This was certainly a possibility (see my entry on “Dead Freight”), but given the short timeframe we’re dealing with, the huge volumes and the closeness in densities the effect should be negligible.

      In any case, 1000 gallons of slightly diluted methamphetamine is still enough to cook Walt to retirement.

  6. BlitzWing00 says:

    With Breaking Bad coming to an end (when the next batch of episode gets aired) and Fringe getting further and further away from science (I don’t think you’re going to like season 5)….I suggest checking out Dexter. They seem to stick pretty grounded to science, it’s pretty good too.

    • John says:

      Yeah, Fringe does seem to be drifting farther into the realm of pure sci-fi. Perhaps I’ll watch season five but not bother to write about it.

      I’ve seen some of the later seasons of Dexter, and it does appear to have some good scientific content (I’ve also been recommended Burn Notice). I’ll revisit season one when Breaking Bad ends to see if there’s enough to write about. Thank you!

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