The TV show The Big Bang Theory portrays academia so I am naturally curious how realistic it is. I have posted about this before (see here) in the context of whether actual things they say about physics are true. Today I post about a recent arc where Amy and Sheldon are working on Super asymmetry.
1) The name: Super Asymmetry. Its not a field but it could be. I assume its about particle physics but I'm not sure they ever say this. A fine name!
2) Amy is a neurobiologist (this was flagged as not being word, but I think it is) working with Sheldon on a physical theory that I would assume requires hard math. Physics is hard! So I wonder how realistic this is. Actually, more important than being hard is that you need a lot of background knowledge. So the questions of interest is: Can an amateur still help in a discovery of a new physical theory? This may depend on the definitions of amateur, discovery, new, and physical. Alone I would doubt it. But with help from Sheldon, I can believe it. Still, making new discoveries in an old field is hard.
3) Amy and Sheldon first had the idea for super asymmetry on their honeymoon. Most married couples have other things to do on their honeymoon. (I did ask my darling to prove the primes were infinite on our wedding day before I married her. She was nervous so couldn't do it, but normally she could. I know a mathematician who made her spouse memorize the definition of a Banach Space before they got married, and recite it to her on their wedding day before they got married.)
4) After they do most of the work they THEN go track down references. This seems stupid but not unrealistic. You can get excited about a theory and work on it at breakneck speed and not want to slow down to check references. But see next point.
5) Sheldon was counting on this for a Nobel Prize. I would think you would check refs before even thinking in those terms.
6) An article in Russian was found that proved the theory could not work. There are a few things wrong with this:
a) The article used the exact same phrase ``Super Asymmetry'' - that seems unlikely.
b) They seemed to not READ the article, just the first page, and then say. DARN, all that work down the tubes.
c) They seemed to not even try to say `OKAY, they did BLAH, we did BLAH BLAH, how do they compare and contrast' (ADDED LATER- I just saw the episode afterwards. They probably DO have something after all. They should have listened to my advice before going into a funk.)
d) If they did all of that work I am sure SOMETHING can be recovered from it.
7) This is not really a post about The Big Bang Theory. I want to know more about your experiences with research: have you worked on a problem and found out it didn't work or was already done, or something like that. And what happened?