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Caltech dons thinking cap for CBS Numb3rs
January 10, 2005
Mediterranean-style building facades will not be the only indicators of Caltech's influence in CBS's new series, "NUMB3RS,' scheduled to premiere Jan. 23.
In addition to shooting some scenes on campus, producers and actors from the show have periodically visited the institute to take in details of student and faculty behavior.
Since late summer, Gary Lorden, the chair of Caltech's math department, has served as the show's math consultant. Although the fictitious school in the series is called Cal Sci (California School of Science and Technology), Lorden said, "It's definitely got the feel of a small technical school like Caltech.'
"NUMB3RS,' created and written by Pasadenans Nick Falacci and Cheryl Heuton, is a detective-style show starring Rob Morrow as Don, an FBI special agent who calls on his brother Charlie, a mathematical whiz, to help solve tricky cases.

"I would unabashedly say it's based on Caltech,' Heuton said of the show's school. "Once we decided that we wanted to do it in California, Caltech was an obvious choice,' she said, adding that she and her husband, Falacci, have great respect and affection for the small but prestigious institute.

Their series presents the idea that numbers and logic can prove invaluable in detective work. Episodes this season will tackle cases involving topics as diverse as disease outbreaks and major train crashes.

Falacci and Heuton said although they wanted to create a series about a mathematician, "it's very much inspired by Richard Feynman.'

Lorden said Charlie's character is a bit of a hero, "much the way that Caltech students felt about Richard Feynman.' Charlie, like Caltech's celebrated Nobel laureate, relies on his knowledge to figure out problems that stump others.

The show also looks at the FBI's increasing utilization of math and scientific consultants since the 9/11 attacks, Heuton said. A Los Angeles-based FBI special agent has worked as a consultant to "NUMB3RS.'

For his part as a consultant, Lorden has answered mathematical questions to inform the writer's scripts and provided much of the show's visual, technical detail. When equations appear overlaid on the screen or characters stand before whiteboards filled with mathematical notes, chances are Lorden originally scribbled them out.

But the show delves into more than simple math problems, Lorden said. Writers have come to him with questions "well beyond my domain of expertise,' he said.

That's bound to happen, Lorden said. Mathematics can be applied to such a diverse range of problems, "nobody in a modern- day math department would know about every way that mathematics would be used.' The fact that the character Charlie is able to use mathematics in all his cases "makes him a supergenius,' Lorden said.

David Krumholtz, the actor who plays Charlie, has thrown himself into the mathematical world. At least twice so far, Krumholtz has been the one to locate mathematical errors in the script, Lorden said.

Before one shoot, Krumholtz pointed out that the number nine had erroneously been included in a list of prime numbers in the script. Since prime numbers are those that cannot be divided evenly by any whole number other than themselves and one, nine is not prime.

"(Krumholtz) has gotten really into the role in a serious way. ... He saved me from overlooking something that would have been embarrassing in the script,' Lorden said.

Beyond mathematics, the Caltech professor was able to give the writers insight into the lives of students and professors on campus. He has a deeper understanding of such things than many faculty members because he has served as Caltech's dean of students and vice president for student affairs.

Although the show sometimes pokes fun at the stereotype of mathematicians and physicists as a closely circumscribed group of people, Lorden said the show portrays the relationship between faculty and students fairly realistically.

As an acknowledgment of Caltech's role in the series, a special advance preview screening of the first episode will be shown in Beckman Auditorium on Jan. 10 beginning at 8 p.m. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Marrow, Krumholtz, Heuton, Falacci and Lorden. The screening is free and open to the public.

"NUMB3RS' premieres Sunday, Jan. 23, on CBS at 10 p.m. Later episodes will air Fridays at 10 p.m.

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