Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Should Hollywood make a Linus Pauling biopic?

The past few years has seen Hollywood make movies about famous scientists and mathematicians, including A Beautiful Mind (John Nash), The Theory of Everything (Stephen Hawking), The Imitation Game (Alan Turing), and now The Man Who Knew Infinity (Ramanujan).
The latter is to be released April 29 in the USA and May 5 in Australia.

Are there others?

This post is not about the important issue whether this is a good thing, particularly when you consider all the creative license taken, and whether the movies capture the science in an appropriate way.

First, what kind of scientist is an appropriate candidate for such a movie?
I think their life must have some significant components of romance, scandal, tragedy, and redemption. The list above does include substantial ingredients of most of these. Pure scientific heroism and brilliance just does not cut it.

Second, who might be some candidates from condensed matter physics or theoretical chemistry?

Feynman was one that came to mind, particularly because of the tragic death of his first wife and his involvement in the Challenger inquiry. However, I see that back in 1998 there was Infinity, starring Matthew Broderick and Patricia Arquette. It looks like it was box office flop. Has anyone seen it?
Interestingly, about 15 years ago, Alan Alda commissioned and was the lead actor in a play QED about Feynman. No signs of a movie.

So who might be other candidates? Greats like John Bardeen, Phil Anderson, Walter Kohn, are just too boring ....
But, what about Linus Pauling? There is the romance and partnership with his wife, amazing lecturing skills, the political activism and persecution, and the controversy of his views about vitamin C.

Perhaps William Shockley might make the cut, because of his role in starting Silicon Valley, conflict with everyone, and racist views, ...

Any other ideas?


  1. I would suggest Ettore Majorana.
    Genius, mysterious disappearance, atomic weapon connection: all ingredients for Hollywood.

    There is already a nice book by Leonardo Sciascia "La scomparsa di Majorana".

  2. I thought the BBC dramatised documentary of Feynman's investigation into the Challenger disaster was great. The science was fairly incidental, but the position & moral role of scientist/engineer embed in a military industrial complex was very engaging.

  3. Lev Landau seems like a perfect candidate for this! He was imprisoned, died young and was an apparent womanizer!