The 5 Smartest Big Bang Theory Episodes

For 12 seasons, The Big Bang Theory has been allowing us to hang out with a group of geniuses. And while they’ve displayed more than their share of nerdery and goofiness, the TBBT gang has also exposed viewers to plenty of real-world science and of-the-moment scientific discoveries. Thanks to Sheldon’s romantic advice for Penny, for example, who is among TBBT viewers.; hasn’t felt super smart showing off their understanding of the Schrödinger’s-cat thought experiment?

Who didn’t consider starting their own business after the guys helped Penny sell thousands of dollars of glittery hair barrettes with their science, marketing, and manufacturing insights? And who hasn’t become so invested in Sheldon and Amy’s quest to win a Nobel Prize that they’ve made the effort to try to understand what “super asymmetry” actually is?

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“The Luminous Fish Effect,” Season 1:

TV ScienceSheldon loses his job after he calls his Caltech boss an idiot, and he uses his new abundance of free time on various experiments: loom weaving, trying to perfect scrambled eggs, and his billion-dollar idea — glow-in-the-dark fish. If he slips the DNA from luminous jellyfish into mini fishbowl inhabitants, Sheldon reasons, he could invent “fish nightlights.” It turns out to be a success, too: As he goes to sleep that night, his room is illuminated by a glowing little swimmer in a bedside-table bowl.

Real ScienceGlowing fish aren’t just for entrepreneurial TV scientists. In 2003, GloFish became a real product sold in the United States, available in colors like Electric Green and Galactic Purple, and in varieties like danios, tetras, and sharks.

“The Monopolar Expedition,” Season 2:

TV ScienceSheldon wins a National Science Foundation grant, and his prize includes a three-month, all-expenses-paid trip to the North Pole, to try to detect magnetic monopoles. Doing so will help him prove string theory, an accomplishment that would mean, Sheldon says, “Third graders will create macaroni art dioramas depicting scenes from my life.” Sheldon invites Leonard, Raj, and Howard to accompany him and to prepare for the frigid temperature, he asks Penny to get them access to the Cheesecake Factory’s walk-in freezer.

The biggest challenge, they realize, isn’t going to be the weather or a location so remote they’re 18 hours — via dogsled — from medical assistance.

Real Science: Sheldon was unsuccessful in finding magnetic monopoles (literally magnets that have just one pole), but he’s not alone: In the real world, the search to prove they exist continues.

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“The Gorilla Experiment,” Season 3:

TV Science: Penny decides she wants to be able to talk to Leonard about his work with subatomic particles, so she convinces Sheldon to give her a crash course in physics. “Crash” ultimately describes the result of Sheldon’s attempt to provide Penny with a primer. Then quickly spirals off into trying to make her understand the equation for Newton’s second law of motion. Later, during a group dinner, Penny does unspool an impressive bit of commentary on Leonard’s current project, but it’s from Sheldon’s point of view.

Real Science: The episode title refers to Sheldon’s assertion that if Koko the gorilla could be taught sign language, he should be able to teach basic physics to Penny. She’s not exactly thrilled by the comparison but agrees to be Koko. Sheldon then gets even more insulting: “Not likely,” he tells her. “Koko learned to understand over 2,000 words.”

“The Bus Pants Utilization,” Season 4:

TV ScienceIt’s simple but clever: Leonard has the idea for a smartphone app that will allow the user to solve differential equations by taking a photo of them. He shares his potential moneymaker with his friends. After receiving a rare compliment from Sheldon on the app’s viability; Leonard invites his pals to help him develop it and become partners in his company.

Sheldon, of course, takes over, first naming himself CEO, COO, and CFO, then trying to name the app after himself. When he forces a vote to try to overthrow Leonard, Leonard fires him. When Sheldon persists in annoying Leonard by playing the theremin while the guys are working on the app; Leonard kicks him out of the apartment.

Real ScienceThere are a few apps along the lines of Shoe Finder, including ScreenShop, which purports to be “Shazam for fashion.”

“The Countdown Reflection,” Season 5:

TV ScienceA season-long arc that promises to send Howard Wolowitz into space makes good on that plan. His fellow astronauts, including a real-life veteran of two Space Shuttle missions Mike Massimino; were amused by Howard’s frightened reaction to the mission, referring to him as “Froot Loops” (his favorite breakfast).

Then treating him with a sedative that turns an anxious Howard into a Howard; who’s so relaxed that he takes his pants off and performs acrobatic moves. Aside from Howard’s awkward relationship with the other astronauts, his mission looks authentic; Massimino also served as a technical consultant for the storyline and the cool Soyuz sets.

Real ScienceMassimino, who walked in space four times and was the first person to tweet from space, is now a Columbia University professor and teaches the course “Introduction to Human Space Flight.”

Hope we all can be smart like them!

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