One of the great things for which ACS Student Chapters and local sections nationwide are known is spreading our love of science and chemistry. And you know what’s great? Its not that hard. Science is intrinsically cool. Need proof? Check out the highest grossing films of the last 20 years. Out of the top 50 highest grossing films of all time, 17 have a scientist in one of the lead roles. Moreover, if you look at the top grossing films of the last 20 years, 8 of them feature a scientist in a leading role, more if you count Hermione Granger as a scientist.
No doubt about it, fictional scientists are awesome. With that in mind, we decided to pull together our favorite fictional chemists and see what you thought. Have a look, then go to the bottom to let us know who we left out.
#1 Barry Allen, The Flash
The Flash is a DC superhero and member of the Justice League who runs at super speeds. There is talk of a Flash movie in the works, but we’ll have to wait and see. If there is a movie, that would be great, because the Flash is also a chemist.
The Flash, aka Barry Allen, started out his superhero career as a chemist in a police crime lab in Keystone City. However, due to poor chemical safety procedures, he was caught in the lab during a lightning storm.
The Flash’s chemistry knowledge comes in handy, as in the comics he’s done things like build batteries or diffuse explosives. Which just goes to show you, lots of the sciences can take you places, but chemistry can take you there faster.
#2 Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, The Muppets
We don’t want to live in a world without edible paperclips or the ability to turn gold into cottage cheese. For these inventions and others like the nuclear shaver or the banana sharpener, we can thank Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant, Beaker.
Yes, thanks to the work of those brave scientists at Muppet Labs, we have those wonderful inventions and more. By the way, if you are a chemist and an inventor, you should check this competition out. Its what Dr. Honeydew would want.
#3 Wendy Simms, CSI
Quick, if you find a dead body outside Las Vegas that’s covered with a chemical you can’t identify, do you know to whom you should turn? We do. Call Wendy Simms.
Simms is a crime scene investigator like Barry Allen, except she doesn’t need superpowers. Thanks to her razor wit and brilliant deductions, she can identify trace chemicals in a DNA samples and frequently helps outside the lab in crime investigations. She’s also a Star Trek fan, and can tell you why Spock’s blood is green.
We also asked the twitter-verse who their favorite fictional chemists were, and we got some great responses. Want in on the next batch of questions we ask? Follow us on Twitter by clicking the “Follow button in the bottom left column.
Here are your suggestions, in no particular order:
#4 Walter White
We love Breaking Bad, and not just because its made chemistry cool again. We also love Breaking Bad because the science adviser to the show is also an ACS faculty adviser for the Cameron University ACS Student Chapter. No kidding, here she is last year discussing the chemistry behind the show:
Walter White is a great example of the chemist using his gifts for evil, which as chemists is something with which we may be a little too familiar. We are constantly aware of chemistry’s power to cause or alleviate suffering, restore or defoliate the environment, and empower or suppress agents of change in the world. And the decision to perform good or ill is not made through hard work or smarts. To quote Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield,
The idea that you can be utterly destroyed, in both body and soul, by a mixture of hard work and intelligence — that’s the most disturbing part of Walter’s story. It feels un-American and yet somehow all-American at the same time.
Don’t forget, chemists, your chemistry knowledge makes you very powerful. Use that power wisely, because if left to itself, it can get away from you.
#5 Dr. Jekyll
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is related to Walter White in that both demonstrate the good/evil dichotomy found in human existence.
Jekyll’s division between respectable and impulsive also reflected the world in which the character lived. In Victorian England there was a divide between the slums where vice and poverty flourished and the gentile world of the upper class. In addition, the story contains a scientific cautionary tale: the potion which transformed Jekyll contained an impurity which he was unable to replicate. It only goes to demonstrate why purity is important to chemical experiments.
#6 Hubert J. Farnsworth
Although he is not technically a chemist, we’re going to add Professor Farnsworth because he always has good news for everyone. The Professor is also our worst nightmare: as a professor, he teaches the same thing each semester: “the mathematics of quantum neutrino fields. I made up the title so no student would dare take it.” In short, he’s your p-chem professor. And that’s why we both love and fear him.
#7 Dr. Temperance Brennan, Bones
Temperance “Bones” Brennan works with the Jeffersonian lab as an Anthropologist in order to make the world a better place by solving difficult murders.
Now, we’ll be the first to admit she is not a chemist by the strictest definition. So why have we put her in this list? Simply put, her work revolves around chemistry and biology. You can’t talk about how bodies decompose, how poisons affect living tissue, or how acid destroys evidence without chemistry. But Dr. Brennan also needs Anthropology and Kinesiology to do her job right.
We put her on this list to demonstrate the value of interdisciplinary sciences to understanding our world and what happens in it. And besides, learning more about society’s inner workings may help you when you’re trying to get that promotion or score that next “A”.
#8 Professor Calculus
Why is it that every adventurer has a genius professor who can invent anything as a friend? And where do you find these people, because we want them as our friend, too.
Professor Calculus is a physicist, biologist, archeologist, and an engineer in addition to being a chemist. He has performed works that are nothing short of miraculous, such as inventing a pill to cure alcoholism and a moon rocket, although for whatever reason he failed to make a color television. Oh, and did we mention he also knows savate?
The professor serves as a good example for those of you looking to go into research. Many of the most successful research chemists have a great deal of knowledge in more than one field. These days, biochemistry pulls in a number of research chemists, but there are also plenty in materials science, biology, physics, and archeology. It probably doesn’t hurt to take an English class, either. You really should know how to write.
Getafix is a chemist from before chemistry: specifically, from the time of the ancient Romans
Getafix’s main role is to brew up a magic potion which gives the user enhanced abilities. He also acts as the village wise man, governing and advising as required. He’s also a ecologically minded, as the Astrix Encyclopedia notes:
“under the watchful eye of the ecologically-minded Dogmatix, helps preserve the forest surrounding the village”
What do you know, I think we’ve discovered the first fictional green chemist!
Finally, one suggestion on Twitter was for Vibranium, a fictional metal from the Marvel Universe. While not a fictional chemist, it does show chemistry reach and importance in the popular imagination. And its the material that makes up Captain America’s shield, and that is awesome.
This is far from an exhaustive list, and we want to hear your thoughts, too. We especially want to hear if you can think of female or minority chemists. Our list above has some great figures, but a little more diversity would be appreciated!
Who are your favorite fictional chemists? Vote below!