A few years ago, not long after we moved to LA, Jennifer and I got a call from some of the writers on the TV series BONES. There’s already a science component to the show, which features brainy forensic anthropologist Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and her team of lab mates working with fiery FBI agent Booth (David Boreanaz) to solve crimes, most of which involve skeletons and physical evidence in some crucial way. This time they needed some physics input, as they wanted the murderer to be a researcher who used their physics expertise to carry out the crime, and were looking for unusual but realistic ideas. We were able to provide some crucial sociological advice (no, professional research scientists probably wouldn’t meet at a Mensa conference) and consulted with experimentalist friends who would know how to use radioactive substances in potentially lethal ways. I won’t say who, exactly, but when the episode aired they ended up calling the research institute the Collar Lab.
Apparently physicists are a suspiciously violent bunch, because tonight’s episode features another scientist suspect, this time played by Richard Schiff of West Wing fame. I got a chance to consult once again, and this time contributed something a bit more tangible to the set: a collection of blackboards in the physicist’s office. (Which, as in all Hollywood conceptions, is a lot more spacious and ornate than any real physicist’s office I’ve ever seen.) You can see the actual work tonight (8pm ET/PT on Fox), but here’s one that I made up that they didn’t end up using.
It does look like our professor is a theoretical cosmologist of some sort, doesn’t it? The equations here will be familiar to anyone who has carefully read “Dynamical Compactification from de Sitter Space.” The boards that actually will appear on the show are taken mostly from “Attractor Solutions in Scalar-Field Cosmology” and “A Consistent Effective Theory of Long-Wavelength Cosmological Perturbations.” Hey, if I’m going to write down a bunch of equations, they might as well be my equations, right?
But I actually got to be a little more than just a technical scribe. (Although that’s not an unimportant role — not only are the equations themselves gibberish to non-experts, it’s difficult for someone who isn’t familiar with the notation to even accurately transcribe the individual symbols.) No spoilers, but the equation-laden blackboards actually play a prominent role in a scene that appears late in the episode, so I was able to provide an infinitesimally tiny amount of creative input. And the scene itself (the overall conception of which belongs to writers Emily Silver and Stephen Nathan) packs quite an emotional wallop, something not typically associated with a series of equations. I haven’t seen the finished episode yet, but it was a great experience to actually be present on set during filming and watch the sausage being made.