The science of Breaking Bad: To’hajiilee

September 11, 2013

Breaking Bad | Season 5 | Episode 13 | “To’hajiilee”

Don't drink and drive. But if you do, better call Saul!

Don’t drink and drive. But if you do, better call Saul!

Bluffing, confrontations and desperation in tonight’s episode, with the only really certain thing being that there are several episodes left with which Breaking Bad can continue to surprise us.

This episode is reviewed at Emilia Jordan and the A.V. Club, and you can read more about it at AMC and IMDb.

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The non-science of Fringe: A Better Human Being

July 8, 2012

Fringe | Season 4 | Episode 13 | “A Better Human Being”

The team investigates another psychic case.

The team investigates another psychic case.

The team investigates a series of murders with the help of someone who appears to be telepathically linked to the perpetrators, discovering that (once again) a scientist’s creations have turned on him. Also, Olivia is inexplicably full of Cortexiphan.

This episode is debunked at Polite Dissent and Cordial Deconstruction, and you can read more about it at Fox, IMDb and the A.V. Club.

Random thoughts

I’ve never heard of chromosome imaging being useful in a forensic investigation, but then Walter is nothing if not unorthodox. It would probably have been simpler to perform a DNA profiling technique such as STR to figure out whether the people were related.

If the half-brothers were trying to protect their identity, wouldn’t it have made sense to kill or silence the doctor first? After all, he could have gone to the police or posted his documents on the internet at any time.

Potassium iodide (KI) has a strong, salty, bitter taste and it’s likely that Walter would be able to identify it. However, there’s no reason for it to be present in the fake Cortexiphan solution since it’s colourless and water would look exactly the same.

Red No. 4 food colouring (E125) is a not-very-common red dye. It is highly unlikely that Walter would be able to taste it, given the low concentration and the overwhelming presence of potassium iodide. He might be able to take a guess from the colour of the solution, but given the vast array of reddish food colourings and coloured chemicals it’d be impossible to match the colour to a specific chemical.


The science of Breaking Bad: Face Off

October 11, 2011

Breaking Bad | Season 4 | Episode 13 | “Face Off”

It's all over - for now, at least.

It's all over - for now, at least.

Season four of Breaking Bad goes out with a bang and a hideous knife-twist, setting a new standard for serialised drama. To my knowledge, nobody has even thought about writing season five yet, so we may be in for a long wait until meth chemistry is back on the small screen again.

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

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The non-science of Fringe: Immortality

February 15, 2011

Fringe : Season 3 : Episode 13 : “Immortality”

Dr. Silva at work.

Dr. Silva at work.

Over in Universe-2, it appears that the Fringe team has just as much trouble with rogue scientists as their Universe-1 counterparts. Somebody is experimenting on humans, and since that somebody is not Walternate the government will be breaking down his door in short order. There’s actually some science to talk about this week – mostly historical, but I’ll take it.

This episode is debunked at Polite Dissent and Cordial Deconstruction, and you can read more about it at Fox, IMDb and the A.V. Club.

Random thoughts

Roxarsone, a common additive in chicken feed.

Roxarsone, a common additive in chicken feed.

Arsenic trioxide (As2O3), seen in the insect lab, is a highly toxic chemical with few direct uses. It is mostly used as a starting reagent to make other things – including several pesticides and animal feed additives, which the lab may have been testing.

Linnaeus-2 appears to have been just as adept as Linnaeus-1, creating an identical taxonomy. Coleoptera is a taxonomic order containing the beetles, and Archostemata is a small, relatively rare, suborder. Skelter beetles do not exist on Earth-1, as does not the Latin name Mansonium boogliosis.

Earth-2’s scientific history is remarkably similar to Earth-1’s. Jonas Salk developed the first safe polio vaccine, and Crick and Watson proposed the double helix structure for DNA. As a chemist, I cannot let a reference to James Watson arise without mentioning that he used (less charitable people would say “stole”) results obtained by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling, neither of whom were credited favourably in Waston’s account of the discovery. I found his book The Double Helix to be so unprofessional (filled with distasteful accounts of him avoiding work, playing tennis, chasing women and insulting his colleagues) that I gave away my copy in disgust.

Nitpick: Walternate refers to his lady friend as “Reiko” (which sounded like “Noriko” to me, but I’ll defer to the A. V. Club review), suggesting that she is Japanese. This conflicts with her Chinese accent (which may yet come to be known as the Memoirs of a Geisha effect) – perhaps China invaded and occupied Japan in Earth-2’s WWII?

On Earth-2, industrial freezers are made to lock people in! Fortuitously, Agent Lee finds a container of liquid nitrogen and freezes the door handle to escape – forgetting that using an asphyxiating gas in a closed space is a great way to kill yourself. Perhaps he was desperate, and reasoned that he’d freeze if he didn’t risk it. But if Dr. Silva was working alone and in secret, why did he need a sign on the door to remind himself how to get out?

Metrifonate, scourge of Earth-2 parasites.

Metrifonate, scourge of Earth-2 parasites.

Fringe first: a medicine question I actually have some experience in! Metrifonate is an anti-parasitic on Earth-1 too, and used to be used to treat schistosomiasis. The current treatment of choice is Praziquantel, which I had to take the last time I was in Kenya and comes in absolutely enormous pills.


The science of Breaking Bad: Full Measure

June 29, 2010

Breaking Bad : Season 3 : Episode 13 : “Full Measure”

Walt and Mike take a long walk.

Walt and Mike take a long walk.

Season three of Breaking Bad wraps up with a cliffhanger that we’ll have to wait until 2011 to see resolved. The past thirteen episodes have been finely crafted, with an large increase in tension and drama and a concomitant drop in the amount of actual science portrayed. Still, this does not decrease the enjoyment factor at all. Check back next season!

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

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The non-science of Fringe: What Lies Below

January 27, 2010

Fringe: Season 2: Episode : “What Lies Below”

Walter pays attention to health and safety for once.

Walter pays attention to health and safety for once.

The plot of this week’s episode could have been lifted from any number of films, books, or even board games – a killer infection is on the loose, with some of the team infected and some not. Can they find a cure in time? Of course they can. In this post, I’ll be making the usual comments about how much suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy the show.

This episode is debunked at Popular Mechanics and Polite Dissent, and you can read more about it at Fox, IMDb and the A.V. Club.

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The science of Breaking Bad: ABQ

November 27, 2009

Breaking Bad : Season 2 : Episode 13 : “ABQ”

Walt pulls Jesse out of his retreat.

Walt pulls Jesse out of his retreat.

The season ends with both Walt’s and Jesse’s hopes for the future falling down around their ears, like aeroplanes out of the sky. Events have conspired to keep Walt out of the lab and classroom, so this episode contains nothing of note. Check back soon!

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

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