Posts tagged: big bang

[Maggie's blog] How do you get to Stockholm?

Nobel Laureate, and James Webb Space Telescope project scientist, John Mather gave an interesting talk (to a packed room) at NASA Goddard recently. It focused on where he grew up and how he got to where he is today. Did you know, for example, that a failed thesis project led to his work on the COBE satellite (for which he won his Nobel Prize in physics)? Or that COBE had to be massively retooled after the loss of the Challenger?

All this and more, below in John’s talk, which he described as”How do you get to Stockholm?”:

[Alexe's -est Blog]: Biggest Bang

Welcome to the -EST blog! Here we’ll chat about some of the awesome astronomical superlatives that exist in our universe – biggest, smallest, brightest, coldest, densest, and whatever else we come up with.

As this is my first -EST blog, I thought it would make sense to start with something that is a natural beginning – how about THE beginning? Let’s try to tackle the biggest bang. The Big Bang is theorized to have been the biggest bang in the history of the universe, also the one that created the universe. The Big Bang and early development of the universe is a hugely complex subject, so this is going to be a somewhat brief-ish overview and not designed to cover every explicit detail.

Time Line of the Universe
Credit: NASA

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[podcast] Astrophysicist to the Stars

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When I first met Dr. David Saltzberg, he was rushing by with a big box of multicolored dry-erase pens. As the science advisor for the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory, he provides the technical content for each episode’s whiteboards as well as the scripts and other aspects of production. While someone on the crew has already transcribed his notes onto the boards, David reviews them before each taping begins, checking for any errors. Sometimes he catches “a Greek letter or a serif out of place,” he told me. As his guest to an episode’s taping last fall, he came out to greet me in the audience, and then rushed backstage to finish his rounds and get ready for filming.

Dr. David Saltzberg, Science Consultant for "The Big Bang Theory"
Pictured: Science Consultant David Saltzberg
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Television Entertainment/Greg Gayne
©2011 WBEI. All rights reserved.

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[Maggie's blog] A talk with Scott London, property master for The Big Bang Theory

You might have read my recent blog post about our visit to a taping of The Big Bang Theory and our chat with Ann Shea, the set decorator. We also snagged a few minutes with Scott London, the show’s property master. Since we’re not Hollywood insiders, we had a lot of questions for Scott (and Ann) about their work – such as the differences between sets and props, how they find such cool stuff for the show, and their favorite pieces on the sets. Scott told us about everything from building a space toilet to cooking for the show.

Sara: Can you give us a little background on what you do, what your profession is?

Scott: Well, I’m the property master on the show and basically it’s anything an actor touches, from the rings, watches, food, guns, their computers, the chemicals, the experiments they do on the set. The wacky games they play. I built the 3D chess set – the actual one we bought was just too small. It was like on a Friday run-through and Chuck [Lorre, executive producer and co-creator] goes, “It’s really good. But can we have one, like, three times the size by Monday?” I literally built it. If you look at them, they kind of have this curve that holds the three levels. So I went and I got a globe stand that has the same curve and then I built it off that. So we just worked all weekend long and had it for them.

Photo courtesy of CBS/Warner Bros.

Sara: What’s the difference between props and sets?

Scott: If there’s just the floor and four empty walls, the production designer does all the colors and everything, and then the set decorator will come in and she’ll put the rugs in and the coffee tables and the couches and end tables and lamps and pictures and flowers. And in this case, on this show, Ann does all the weird little, you know, chemistry, or the DNA model, and all the old gadgets and things that are just around. Where I just deal with anything actually that’s in the script that the actors touch.


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[Maggie's blog] A chat with Ann Shea, Set Decorator for The Big Bang Theory

Sara and I were fortunate enough to be guests at a recent taping of The Big Bang Theory. Before the show, we had the chance to chat with Ann Shea, the set decorator, and Scott London, the property master. They were both very nice and very generous with their time, and we had a lot of fun talking with them! If you’ve been following our blog, you’ll know that we have sent an assortment of NASA items their way. We’ve been really interested in the detail in the sets for the show, how they pick the stuff to include, and where they find inspiration for all of the sets that pop up in each show! Ann revealed all:

Maggie: What is your official job title?

Ann: I’m the set decorator, and so usually once I get the plans and the walls are built is when I start my work of providing the furniture and the plants and the artwork and all the cool objects, the floor coverings and the practical lights.

Maggie: Where do you source everything? Do you have to send out a crew to go buy things in different places?

Ann: I go out to the prop houses or online or retail stores, and I pick it all out myself, every single thing on the show, and it’s a lot of stuff. Then my crew goes and picks it up for me and they bring it back here and place it where we think it should go.

Maggie: Once the initial plans are developed, and things are shopped for, what are your duties show to show? Do you supervise how stuff is put on the set?

Ann: Yes! And people think that, “Oh, once you have the main sets done, you pretty much don’t have much to do, right?” But little do they know, every week sets come in and go out. So, Koothrappali’s apartment doesn’t sit here on the stage all the time. It goes out and comes back in. So just collecting all that stuff again is a bit of a job. But usually my lead man takes care of most of that. But every once in a while when we try to get stuff back, and it’s a rental, they’ll be out, so I have to find whatever items are missing off of our order. But also, we have lots of swing sets every week, that are new sets, that people don’t even realize. We may only be in there for 10 seconds, but yet I have to do the whole set.

Maggie: We know that Leonard & Sheldon’s apartment is always there but it’s amazing when you watch the show that Raj’s apartment and all these things come down and up, because they look the same every time. And I can’t imagine how much work it is to put the comic book store up and down, and it’s impressive.

Sara: They’re very rich – I can’t even imagine every item that has to go into them.

Maggie: Yeah, because there’s a lot of stuff, it’s not just like one shelf with three things on it. There’s a lot of detail in each set.

Sara: These guys own a lot of stuff!

[Everyone laughs.]


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[Sara's blog] We’re on the Grid!

In Astronomy, April 2011

Last week, we got a tip from a long-time Twitter follower (hi, Pete!) that Blueshift showed up in the April 2011 issue of Astronomy magazine. I just got my hands on a copy, and there we are, in the issue’s “Cosmic Grid” section on the last page. Why are we there? For our visit to the set of The Big Bang Theory, of course! According to the grid, which has highly scientific axes for HOT/NOT and WEIRD/PREDICTABLE, our visit falls somewhere in the middle, but we’re pleased to be closer to HOT than NOT! It’s debatable whether a visit that occurred last September is really hot news anymore… but if you consider it on an astronomical timescale, it’s still very recent!

The blurb features a tiny version of the photo that went out with the NASA release about our visit (written by Maggie), and got picked up by a bunch of news outlets thereafter. It’s a bit surreal to see my face (approximately the size of a peppercorn) in a magazine!  Here’s the photo they used:

Big Bang Theory

We haven’t talked about The Big Bang Theory in a while, but the NASA goodies that we provided to the production staff are still popping up in various episodes. There have been a few episodes with scenes in Raj’s apartment this season… and if you look closely, you’ll see the James Webb Space Telescope model, some posters, a bunch of magnets, and other things from NASA! We just sent them a new batch of stuff, and we’ve been told a large Webb poster will be to the left of Raj’s door in an upcoming episode. Maggie and I always have our fingers on the pause button when we watch, so we can catch any hidden goodies in a scene. The excitement of it still hasn’t worn off for us!

[Blog] Weekly Awesomeness Round-up – 11/22/10

The Chandra X-ray satellite just found the youngest nearby black hole. At 30 years old, it’s the remnant of SN 1979C, a supernova in the galaxy M100 approximately 50 million light years from Earth.

“If our interpretation is correct, this is the nearest example where the birth of a black hole has been observed,” said Daniel Patnaude of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. who led the study. For more information, check out the web feature on
There’s also a good Washington Post article about this discovery.


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[podcast] When Science Inspires Comedy

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One of the bonuses of our set visit to The Big Bang Theory was that we got the chance to talk to co-creator and executive producer Bill Prady about how the show came to be, and how they get the science right in every episode. Since much of what we do is about communicating science to the public, we were naturally interested in how real science was worked into what is primarily a comedy.

To supplement our podcast interview with Bill, Blueshift’s Maggie Masetti wrote a web feature for

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[Maggie's blog] NASA on the Big Bang Theory

As you might know, because we have mentioned it a whole bunch of times because we’re still excited by it, Bill Prady, the co-creator/producer of “The Big Bang Theory”, invited us out to visit the set of the show. We brought a whole bunch of NASA goodies with us to share with the writers and production staff. Sure, we hoped some of them might find their way onto the set – but primarily, we thought that there were probably some geeks involved with the show that might enjoy having them. Once the James Webb Space Telescope project folks (who I work for) heard where we were going, they offered to send along a small, scale model for the show. Thankfully I had a friend in LA, who was kind enough to let me ship her the model, a poster tube, and another box full of stickers, lithos, bookmarks, magnets, note pads, diffraction grating glasses, an SDO LEGO kit, and various other things, so that we didn’t have to carry all that on the plane!

After our set tour, we loaded Bill’s assistant, Tara, down with the model and two NASA bags full of stuff.

And though we had no expectations, you can bet we kept our eyes peeled during the episodes that were taped after our visit! During Thursday, November 4th’s episode, “The Apology Insufficiency,” we were rewarded!

“The Apology Insufficiency” — Sheldon’s answers during an FBI interview put Wolowitz’s security clearance in jeopardy, on THE BIG BANG THEORY, Thursday, Nov. 4 (8:00-8:31 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Eliza Dushku pictured here with Kunal Nayyar, guest stars as the agent interviewing Wolowitz’s friends.
Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS
©2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

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[Blog] Weekly Awesomeness Round-up – 10/25/10

There’s been a trend lately to have webcams or live streams in some of NASA’s cleanrooms so that you guys can see flight hardware being built and tested.

And every once in a while, something unexpected happens! (At about 10 seconds in, in this case…)

You can see a new Mars rover, named Curiosity (and due to launch in 2012) being built on a live stream. Sometimes there are chats too!

You can see live shots from a webcam in Goddard’s large cleanroom where they are building and testing hardware for the James Webb Space Telescope.

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