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Meet the MIT physicists who vetted the science in ‘Ghostbusters’

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“Ghostbusters” stars (from left) Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, and Leslie Jones.AP

Lindley Winslow hopes the "Ghostbusters" reboot will send a clear message to little girls in the audience: They can grow up to be a theoretical physicist just like Kristen Wiig's character in the film.

"I'm hoping this movie finds those girls and sends them to me at MIT," said Winslow, an experimental physicist who works in the university's Laboratory for Nuclear Science.

Winslow and other members of MIT's department of physics worked as consultants on the film to ensure the science was as accurate as possible. Winslow herself spent a week writing out a lengthy and elaborate Grand Unifying Theory known as SU(5). (You can spot it in a scene where Wiig's character, Erin Gilbert, while trying to earn tenure at Columbia, prepares to speak on the challenge of unifying quantum mechanics and gravity.)


"I liked that theory because we were able to build a beautiful experiment to eliminate the theory," Winslow said.

Staffers on set (the film was partially shot in Boston) copied the equation onto a whiteboard where it remained during shooting. Like Wiig's character, Winslow is an assistant professor. She studies a subatomic particle called a neutrino. So little is known about neutrinos they're called the "ghosts of the standard model," Winslow said.

Lindley Winslow, an experimental physicist and assistant professor at MIT.Handout

Hollywood knocked on the department's doors after being referred by David Saltzberg, a friend and science consultant for the television show "The Big Bang Theory." Physics professor Janet Conrad, another consultant on the film, saw her office re-created, and many of her books and papers make cameos in the movie.

"Nothing says physics like Janet's office," Winslow said.

As fans of the original "Ghostbusters," both Winslow and Conrad were excited for the opportunity to add authenticity to the set.

"I was thrilled when Lindley told me that they were interested in the contents of my office," Conrad said in an e-mail. "I am very fond of the original Ghostbusters. I have even used 'Ghostbusters' as a theme for my colloquium on neutrino physics, since neutrinos are often called the ghost particle."


James Maxwell, a particle physicist and a staff scientist at Jefferson Lab in Newport News, Va., also consulted on the film and helped build several props. He even produced a short thesis on how a proton pack would work. (For those who aren't "Ghostbusters" geeks, a proton pack is used to capture ghosts.)

"It's been really fun to look at the cool ideas the writers come up with and then try to say, 'OK, that's a cool idea," Maxwell said in a YouTube video by SonyPictures Entertainment on the science of the film. "How about we do this and it would sound a little better?' "

Cristela Guerra can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.