Don Gomez of Watson, who is writing a thesis on science used in the TV show "Breaking Bad". Photo: Melissa Adams
Breaking Bad characters use chemistry to cook drugs for profit, but viewers of the award-winning show do not think any less of science as a result.
That is the preliminary finding of ANU master's degree student Don Gomez, who is writing a thesis on the science in Breaking Bad and is a dedicated fan of the show.
The popular series set in Albuquerque follows the fortunes of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with inoperable cancer.
Walter White, who is played by Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad.
White begins manufacturing methamphetamine in an effort to provide financially for his family and is drawn into a life of crime.
First aired in 2008, the final episodes of Breaking Bad began screening this week. Dr Gomez, of Watson, said other researchers had commented that while Breaking Bad was a great show, it did not portray chemistry in a positive way.
''I didn't really think negatively of the chemistry used in Breaking Bad. Personally I felt that the science used in the show made it really interesting and really exciting, and I wanted to see whether or not the audience, or fans of the show, felt the same way,'' he said.
Dr Gomez did a survey of 200 Breaking Bad fans, recruited mostly online, and held three focus groups in Canberra asking participants about depictions of chemistry in the show.
Some people in the focus groups had not seen Breaking Bad until Dr Gomez showed them the first episode, and preliminary findings were positive.
''There was an overwhelming response in the focus groups … that inherently the science wasn't bad. It was the people doing the bad thing, the science was a tool,'' he said. ''People generally thought the science was really exciting and added to the engagement of the show.''
Dr Gomez said he was interested in popular depictions of science because they had the potential to influence whether young people pursued studies in the field and could have an impact on policy decisions.
He said his research was important because people were made up of chemicals, as was everything they ate and drank and more complex elements of modern life, including pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals.
''How fiction can influence perceptions of science is a really important in terms of how they engage with science and technology in general,'' he said.
ANU lecturer in science communication Lindy Orthia said that despite being a lifelong Dr Who fan, Breaking Bad was probably her favourite show.
Dr Orthia said shows like Breaking Bad prompted a healthy discussion about science in people's lives and steered away from stereotypical perceptions of scientists as ''villains.''
''The thing about Breaking Bad is it's far more interesting than that, there is no clear moral line,'' she said.