Beaking Bad Chemistry

The Chemistry Behind AMC's Breaking Bad TV Series

Have you been wondering about the chemistry behind AMC's dramatic television series, Breaking Bad? Here's a look at the science of the show.
Walt changes the colors of a flame by spraying it with chemicals.
In the "Breaking Bad" pilot episoode, Walt sprays a bunsen burner flame with chemicals from a spray bottle and turns the flame different colors. AMC

In the pilot episode of Breaking Bad Walt White performs a chemistry demonstration in which he sprays chemicals onto a burner flame, causing it to change colors. Here's how you can do that demonstration yourself. More »

This is a photo of crystal meth that was confiscated by the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
This is a photo of crystal meth that was confiscated by the US Drug Enforcement Agency. US DEA

The premise of the series is that chemist and chemistry teacher Walt White is diagnosed with cancer and seeks to make enough money to support his family after his death so he turns to making crystal meth. Just how hard is it to make this drug? Not that hard, but there are lots of reasons why you wouldn't want to mess with it. More »

Mercury fulminate is an explosive.
Mercury fulminate is an explosive. It is primarily used to trigger other explosives, such as in blasting caps and percussion caps. Tobias Maximilian Mittrach, Wikipedia Commons

Mercury fulminate sort of looks like crystal meth, but is an explosive. Mercury fulminate is easy to prepare, but you won't find many chemists excited about mixing up a batch. More »

This is the hazard symbol indicating corrosive materials.
This is the hazard symbol indicating corrosive materials. European Chemicals Bureau

Walt uses hydrofluoric acid to dissolve a body. This works, but if you are going to use hydrofluoric acid (presumably not for that purpose), there are certain things you need to know. More »

Photograph of graphite, one of the forms of elemental carbon.
Photograph of graphite, one of the forms of elemental carbon. U.S. Geological Survey

The third episode of Breaking Bad finds Walt pondering what makes a man. Is it the elements of which he is comprised? No, it's the choices he makes. Walt thinks back on his past and reviews a bit of biochemistry. More »

Beaker & Flask
Pyrex Beaker and Erlenmeyer Flask. Siede Preis, Getty Images

If you are going to use glassware for chemistry, it's probably a good idea to learn how to get it clean. Dirty glassware can lead to contamination. You wouldn't want that, would you? More »

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Castor beans are the source of the poison called ricin, but also of castor oil and other products.
Castor beans are the source of the poison called ricin, but they are also the source of castor oil and other products. You can hold the seeds in your hand and grow the plants in your garden to repel pests. Anne Helmenstine

The first episode of Season 2 finds Walt making up a batch of ricin. Ricin is bad news, but you don't need to fear castor beans or accidental poisoning. More »

Pure sugar crystals and pure crystal meth both are clear.
Pure sugar crystals and pure crystal meth are clear. In Breaking Bad, Walt's crystal meth was blue because of the chemicals he used in production. Jonathan Kantor, Getty Images

Walter White's trademark meth is blue rather than clear or white. The blue crystal meth used in Breaking Bad really is blue rock candy or sugar crystals. You can make blue crystals yourself, for snacking while watching the show. More »