As a real-life neuroscientist — and an actress who plays one on TV — Mayim Bialik is on a mission to get kids excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects.
TODAY.com caught up with the brainy star, who is currently the face of Texas Instruments’ back-to-school campaign (where students and teachers can win a classroom visit from Bialik) and recently launched the online community Grok Nation. Bialik gave a hint at what’s next for her “Big Bang Theory” character, Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler, and reflected on the impact of “Blossom,” which turned 25 this year.
Do “Big Bang Theory” fans ever tell you seeing a female neurobiologist prominently featured on a hit show encouraged them to consider a career in science?
Yeah, I’ve had the blessing to have that exact sentiment expressed to me, even from young women who are in college and have said, “You’ve inspired me all the way to study science as a college student.” So that’s really incredible. But it’s not just about women. I’ve heard it from men — they get to see women differently when we’re presented that way.
And we have two female scientists in our cast. Melissa Rauch, who plays Bernadette, is a microbiologist, and she’s a very different kind of female than Amy, and I think that’s important too. There are lots of different kinds of female scientists, just like there are lots of different kinds of male scientists.
Did you have a role model who encouraged you to study science?
I had a tutor when I was 15, which was during my “Blossom” days. She was my biology tutor on the set. She was a dental student at UCLA and she’s now a dental surgeon, but she was the first woman who I had explain things to me in a way that made sense and whom I could look up to as a role model.
What's the secret to getting kids excited about math and science?
In the work that I do with Texas Instruments, we believe that putting the appropriate and exciting technology in the hands of young people is the best way for them to understand what it actually feels like to be a scientist and if what you put in their hands is exciting and interesting, and in many cases colorful, that often can be the difference between seeing it as a boring thing and seeing it as something that’s really acceptable.
What’s your favorite nerdy Amy moment from “Big Bang Theory”?
A lot of her social awkwardness is really funny. But I love lab scenes, partly because I generally try to look like I know what I’m doing, because in many cases, I do. But lab scenes are really fun. I always liked wearing a lab coat. And I think it’s fun just to see Amy in her element.
What's your favorite part about Amy and [onscreen boyfriend] Sheldon's relationship?
I think it’s probably the longest-running nonsexual relationship that is romantic and intimate that we’ve seen on television. I think that’s really powerful, and although we make jokes about it, it is a relationship that is existing despite that limitation.
What’s next for them in the upcoming season?
We’re filming our third episode this week and I don’t know beyond what the script we’ll get tonight for next week’s episode is. We deal head-on with the fact that Amy wanted some time away from Sheldon at the end of season 8, but nothing has evolved quickly on our show, so we’re watching it unfold.
This year was the 25th anniversary of “Blossom,” which also showed girls it was cool to be smart.
The funny thing is, we see so many females on TV now, and young women are a much bigger part of our culture, but at the time we really had to fight hard to even produce a show about a girl. I think it’s important for people to realize that while we weren’t curing cancer and we weren’t doing Shakespeare, that was very groundbreaking at the time to have a show that was about a girl, simply because we were told, “People won’t watch a show about a girl.”
So, I think culturally, it was kind of special for that reason, and the character of Blossom was designed by [show creator] Don Reo to be about a real girl — one who didn’t have to choose between being popular and being smart. And all the female characters I grew up with, who were supporting roles in all the shows I watched, were either the bimbo or the nerd. So we really tried with “Blossom” to create someone who was right in the middle.
Where would Blossom be now?
Probably a practicing lawyer and working for the rights of the underprivileged as a lawyer — that would be my guess.
Do you think Blossom would be friends with your “Big Bang Theory” character?
That’s funny, no one’s ever asked me that before. Yeah, Blossom was kind of the person who tries to be nice to everyone, so I think Amy would fall into that.
A lot of ‘90s trends have made a comeback recently. What’s one “Blossom” look you’ve seen again?
Well, there was a period where I saw hats with sunflowers on them, which I could’ve lived without having to experience a second time. I’ve seen floral dresses and army boots, which I used to wear and which Blossom used to wear. I think floral patterns in general. I’ve even seen some people wearing those teeny-tiny suspender clips that clip together your dress.
What was Blossom’s craziest outfit?
There were a lot of outfits that looked like they were taken out of Will Smith’s closet. Like all those sweaters and leggings and high-tops, Jordans. Some of the sportier looks were kind of silly.
You famously played a young Bette Midler in “Beaches” in 1988. Have you kept in touch?
The person who does my hair actually does her hair. We sometimes go and have a “Say hi for me” kind of thing. I was on “Access Hollywood” and she recorded a message for me because we were there on opposite days. So, yeah, I’m obviously a huge fan of hers still, and she was a tremendous part of my life.