Posted on in College & Campus

Alumna Donna Nelson on Chemistry and Breaking Bad

***To view video of Dr. Nelson as the inaugural speaker for the Pioneering Leadership Lecture Series, click HERE ***

Meet alumna Donna Nelson, a chemistry professor at the University of Oklahoma (which we forgive her for) and science advisor for the popular TV show, "Breaking Bad."

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Do you think TV shows like “Breaking Bad” have had a positive impact on science?

Oh yes, absolutely! There is so much discussion about the show. There are blogs written about it in which kids are arguing over which science is correct…that means they’re discussing chemistry and really thinking about it very deeply. The Hollywood connection has glamorized science, and I absolutely think this has been very beneficial.

Are there any favorite moments during your involvement with “Breaking Bad” that you could share with us?

There was one scene that people who watch “Breaking Bad” might remember, and that is a scene in which Walt is in the super lab with Gus and Jesse. Walt is talking to Gus about the chemistry behind the pseudoephedrine process and saying, “You cannot do this reaction without me.” Walt speaks very strongly about his knowledge of chemistry and the power of science. I really liked that because I thought that drove home the point that scientists generally need to make now—that the general public needs to realize how important science is to everybody because chemistry, in particular, impacts their everyday lives. That made me feel really good…and I helped them write that dialogue and get it correct.

What is your area of research and how was your time at UT?

I’m a physical organic chemist. I got my Ph.D. with Michael Dewar at UT Austin, and he was a fabulous person and very inspirational. He was very supportive of women. I felt very privileged to have been able to work with him. He had a huge influence on the rest of my professional life. He truly was a genius.

Jessica is the data and communications coordinator for the Office of Constituent and Alumni relations in the College of Natural Sciences. She has a B.A. in Cultural Studies from Principia College.

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Guest Thursday, July 24, 2014