Chem Prof Advises Breaking Bad on All Things Meth

By McCarton Ackerman 09/07/12

U of Oklahoma's Donna Nelson is the hit show's consultant on the chemistry of meth-cooking.

Professor Donna Nelson is the "Real Walter
Photo via

Ever wonder how the drug-making references and procedures on AMC's Breaking Bad are so convincing? The credibility doesn't come from the writer's previous drug history, but rather from Donna Nelson, a chemistry professor at the University of Oklahoma who has been an ongoing consultant to the Emmy-winning show since the second season. However, anyone trying to pick up meth-cooking tips from the show will be sorely disappointed with the end results. "They deliberately put in faulty steps. They’ll start with one method of synthesizing methamphetamine but then switch to another,” says Nelson. And the meth that appears on-screen? It's cotton candy flavored sugar crystals. Although Nelson doesn't have any personal experience with meth, she's more than qualified to be a consultant to the show from teaching organic chemistry to nearly 10,000 students since 1983 and racking up awards and honors from several institutions, including the National Science Foundation. She got the gig after reaching out to show creator Vince Gilligan via Chemical and Engineering News, who ran a feature story on Gilligan. “He said neither he nor his writer had a science background, and so they had to rely on Wikipedia and the Web,” said Nelson. “When I read that, I thought, ‘We scientists are always complaining about shows getting the science wrong. It’s like fingernails on a blackboard to us. This would be a great opportunity to work with one.’ When I saw what they had written, I thought, ‘Wow, they really need help.'" She's now hoping to leverage her Hollywood connections by making a public service announcement warning Oklahomans about the dangers of meth.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.