The USA Science & Engineering Festival, designed to engage kids in science, technology, engineering, and math, was held Washington, D.C., this April. One of the celebrity speakers was Mayim Bialik, star of Blossom and The Big Bang Theory, and the recipient of a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Science’s Meghna Sachdev sat down with Mayim to chat about her life as an actor and a scientist.
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Q: Washington, D.C., recently hosted the USA Science & Engineering Festival to get kids excited about math, science, engineering, and technology. One of the celebrity attendees was Mayim Bialik, star of the TV shows Blossom and The Big Bang Theory. Science magazine caught up with her to chat about her work as a scientist and as an actor. So, Mayim, people know you from Blossom, and they know you from The Big Bang Theory, but a lot of people don’t know you have a Ph.D.
M.B.: I took a 12-year break between Blossom and The Big Bang Theory, and in those 12 years I had two kids and I got a Ph.D. in neuroscience.
Q: One of the great things about the Science & Engineering Festival is that it’s educating kids about science. Is that something that you feel strongly about?
M.B.: Yeah, I mean first of all, I’m a mom, but I also teach—I still teach neuroscience. And I think also just being on a television show that’s so popular, especially with young people, I think that’s already a great platform, that people have learned more about science, possibly than they thought they would from a sitcom, from The Big Bang Theory.
Q: Great, tell us more about your teaching.
M.B.: So, I teach, I had 11 students this year; I tutor kids in neuroscience—it's super fun. My parents are both teachers, and they taught for a combined—I think—65 years between the two of them in public school. I went to public school. I was inspired by a female tutor when I was in high school. So, besides having my own kids who I plan to make into science geeks, to be able to reach other children, I think, is one of the most important things we can do, and the younger we can reach them, the better.
Q: And do you think shows like The Big Bang Theory are helping make science "cool"?
M.B.: I think there's been a sort-of glorification of the geek culture with our show and I think that there is a lot about kind of presenting scientists living real lives that I think kind of takes it out of that lab, you know, myth: that scientists all exist in a lab, and that they're all weird, and I think it's really fun. It's fun to play a female scientist, also, to show that other flavor of scientist, which, you know, for a lot of history has been seen as really a male-dominated field. And part of it was, for a lot of cultural reasons. It's fun to be part of not only this geek glorification, but also the female version, as well. I don't know if my character's cool at all, but I think the fact that she's funny, and people can have a good time with her, hopefully makes her more accessible.
Q: Based on your experience as a scientist, how true to life do you think some of The Big Bang Theory is?
M.B.: Well, I think the science is pretty accurate. But I think in terms of the personalities, I've met people like all of those characters, for sure. I've met females like that, I've met males like that. I think that that's some of the fun of the Sheldon character. He has a lot of quirks that no one's medicating him for, and no one is trying to make him change about. Plenty of people operate with a lot of quirks in the science world, and it sometimes serves us really well. So I think that's kind of what the show does also: It's trying to normalize a lot of the variety of human behavior which is literally the spice of life.
Q: Mayim, thanks for chatting with us. Get up to the minute news from Science on our Web site, www.news.sciencemag.org. I’m Meghna Sachdev. On behalf of Science magazine and our publisher, AAAS, thanks for listening.