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"The Einstein Approximation" is the fourteenth episode of the third season of the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory. This episode first aired on Monday, February 1, 2010.


Sheldon's search for the answer to a physics problem (Why electrons behave as if they have no mass when traveling through a graphene sheet) keeps him awake for several days and he becomes obsessed with trying to solve it acting crazier than normal.

Extended Plot[]


Leonard and Penny in the morning.

Sheldon trying to engage his superior-colliculus by quickly whipping his head back and forth at a whiteboard full of equations to create a fleeting peripheral image. Penny and Leonard walk out, and Sheldon reveals that he's been up all night working on his problem. Sheldon tries other methods of trying to understand, but eventually takes Leonard's advice of starting fresh by wastefully throwing the whiteboard out the window and consequently causing a car crash.

That day, at the cafeteria during lunch, Sheldon tries to build a physical diagram of his problem by using Raj's Lima-beans and Leonard's peas, but to no avail as Raj soon takes a large handful of his Lima beans back. Raj tells Leonard and Howard about Disco Night at the Moonlight Roller Rink in Glendale and asks if they want to come. To Raj's disappointment, Leonard and Howard immediately decide to bring Bernadette and Penny to make it a double-date. Raj declines to come and makes a bitter remark to Leonard and Howard.

When Leonard, Howard, Penny and Bernadette return to the apartment after roller skating, they find Sheldon sitting on a stool with hundreds of marbles all over the floor, still stuck in the problem. Both Leonard and Penny slip on the marbles falling on their butts. Bernadette realizes that Sheldon is overtired, and makes him go to bed by verbally intimidating him, and reminding him that a lack of REM sleep leads to impaired cognitive function.



In the middle of the night, Leonard and Penny are awakened to a phone call from a security guard at a local shopping mall. When Leonard arrives at the mall, he finds Sheldon in a ball pit building carbon atoms out of plastic balls. When Leonard tells Sheldon that they have to go home, Sheldon immediately hides under the balls, leading to Leonard chasing him through the ball pit with difficulty. Sheldon keeps popping up and shouting "Bazinga!", which only further frustrates and angers Leonard.

A few hours afterwards, Leonard and Penny are asleep again, but Sheldon wakes them up and tells them that his solution to his math problem is working in a menial job, much like how Albert Einstein did when he was working at the Patent Office in Switzerland and discovered special relativity.


Sheldon has his epiphany.

The next day, Sheldon goes to a job center and tries to apply for several menial jobs, but quickly angers the clerk he talks to. Sheldon is eventually removed from the center by security, and decides to work as a busboy without pay with Penny and Bernadette at the Cheesecake Factory. Sheldon quickly realizes that being a waiter is more menial than being a busboy, and quickly trades positions, excelling at waiting. Although he is never hired, the restaurant appears happy to let him continue with his work (presumably as he is not asking for pay). Later on, after taking Leonard, Howard and Raj's orders, Sheldon accidentally drops a pile of plates, but realizes that he's been looking at his problem all wrong and that the electrons move through the graphene in waves, and rushes off to solve his problem, leaving Penny to take care of his mess.

Eventually, Raj pressures Howard to go disco roller-skating with him, much to Raj's joy and Howard's annoyance.



  • "Like Sheldon, the writers focus pretty simple-mindedly on one plot and for someone like me who appreciates logic the results are good. Instead of saying he has tried everything to find the answer, Sheldon really does try everything. He uses food, he uses marbles, he uses a ball pit, he uses a white board. The writers should get a lot of credit for the effort they put into their plots...Yet another fun episode exploring a clever comic creation and his interaction with the world." - The TV Critic's Review
  • As a physicist with a doctorate, Sheldon should not be trying to figure out that electrons move as not only matter but also waves for an entire episode as this simple concept is learned in high school level physics or chemistry. This shows an incongruous understanding of the main subject matter by both Sheldon's peers, including Bernadette, and the writers of the show. For those not even remotely versed in science, this episode makes perfect sense.
  • IMDb user reviews


  • Title Reference: Sheldon's attempt at solving his problem by working in a menial job, comparing it to Albert Einstein's discoveries while working at the Swiss patent office.
  • Music: "One Night in Bangkok" by Murray Head, from the musical Chess.
  • Chuck Lorre's vanity card [1]
  • This episode was watched by 15.51 million people with a rating of 5.4 (adults 18–49).
  • This episode aired in Canada on February 1, 2010, with 1.832 million viewers and a weekly ranking of #14.
  • Episode transcript [2]

Costume Notes[]

BGD Gray Dots BDG Red/Navy stripe

The BDG line from Urban Outfitters is discontinued.


  • Last appearance of Bernadette in season 3 and as a recurring character; her next appearance is in "The Hot Troll Deviation" (S4E4).
  • Bernadette only has one tiny part as the Cheesecake Factory waitress in the Cheesecake Factory scene of this episode and she shares no waitress parts with Penny throughout the rest of the Cheesecake Factory scene of this episode. She might be having a small shift that day.
  • In this episode, Bernadette displays a rare instance of her ability to handle stubborn children, as a result from growing up with 5 younger siblings.
  • Sheldon is a senior theoretical particle physicist at Caltech, focusing on M Theory, or, in layman's terms, string theory. What attracted Sheldon's attention tonight is the theoretical description of electron motion in grapheme. By a mathematical coincidence, the equation that describes electron motion in graphene is almost the same as the fundamental equation of particle free electrons in relativistic quantum mechanic: the famous Dirac Equation. Because of the electrons’ interactions with the carbon atomic nuclei, the common examples electrons move as if they are effective mass (solid-state physics)|massless. So graphene can serve as a kind of laboratory for particle physics theorists, like Sheldon, to test their understanding of the mathematics they use every day under more abstract and less controllable conditions.
  • Collaborative physics: String theory finds a bench mate: The exotic theory of everything could shed light on the behavior of real materials, thanks to an unexpected correspondence mathematical connection with condensed matter physics. The scientists trying to bridge these disciplines are motivated by the discovery of a startling coincidence: suitably interpreted, the equations of string theory can be a powerful tool for analyzing some exotic states of matter, ranging from plasma super-hot balls of quarks and gluos to ultra-cold atoms. For the time being, the advantage to both partners is clear. String theory, long criticized for having lost touch with reality, gets experimental credibility. And condensed matter physics, never the media darling that string theory has been, gets a new mathematical tool — and a chance to bask in new-found glamor.
  • At his official 2010 Nobel Prize acceptance lecture in Stockholm, Dr. Konstantin Novoselov showed a scene from this episode. Novoselov's lecture is titled GRAPHENE: MATERIALS IN THE FLATLAND. A few episodes ago, Sheldon took us in his mind to the fictional country of Flatland, where only two-dimensions of motion are allowed. Not at all fictional, graphene is a carbon Flatland with electrons fixed to move only in its two-dimensional world. Lacking that one extra dimension turns most of the rules of materials on its head.
  • Sheldon's interviewer at the County of Los Angeles is played by Yeardley Smith, famous for the role of Lisa, who like Sheldon is an intellectual in The Simpsons. The Simpsons was referred to in "The Grasshopper Experiment". Likewise, TBBT was lampooned in one episode of "The Simpsons".
  • Sheldon says, "I asked myself, what is the most mind-numbing, pedestrian job conceivable? Three answers came to mind: a toll booth attendant, an Apple Store genius, and what Penny does." In "The Porkchop Indeterminacy", he similarly ridiculed professions including toll booth attendants, complaining, "My God! Why don’t you just tell them I’m a toll taker at the Golden Gate Bridge? Rocket scientist, how humiliating."
  • One of the episodes in which Sheldon says "Bazinga!".
  • Sheldon says he doesn't want to be a toll booth attendant because he doesn't want to touch other people's coins (presumably due to his mysophobia); however, in The Cheesecake Factory, he doesn't seem to bother touching drinking glasses and plates which other people touch, eat and drink from. Also, due to the unsanitary conditions commonly associated with ball pits in child|children's play areas, it seem unlikely that Sheldon would ever enter, let alone swim around in one.
  • Sheldon states that Penny's snoring is worse when she is on her back. In "The Big Bran Hypothesis", he suggested she might have sleep apnea.
  • The roller skating scene at the end of the episode is followed by an outtake of the ball pit scene, showing Jim Parsons unsuccessfully trying to hold back laughter while saying "Bazinga!" The roller skating rink doesn't completely follow the remainder of the story so it was probably the original scene planned for after the commercial break and the extra ball pit footage was added for time or humorous content.
  • The song played at the roller rink was "One Night in Bangkok" by Murray Head.
  • More bazingas were used than any other episode. The word is used 10 times in total, and that's no "Bazinga".
  • Kevin Brief twice played a security guard on The Big Bang Theory.
  • With the statement by Penny, "I know I said I could handle your roommate, but I was wrong. We're going to have to break-up." Penny foreshadows the eventual break-up of Leonard and Penny in "The Wheaton Recurrence." There is a second instance of foreshadowing in "The Precious Fragmentation."
  • The ball-pit scene is a popular clip of this episode. There is an game app based on the scene available for smartphones.


Penny: Whatcha doing?
Sheldon: I’m attempting to view my work as a fleeting peripheral image so as to engage the superior colliculus of my brain.
Penny: Interesting. I usually just have coffee. You've been up all night?
Sheldon: Is it morning?
Penny: Yes...
Sheldon: Then I've been up all night.
Penny: And you’re stuck?
Sheldon: Why else would a person try to engage their superior colliculus?
Penny: Oh, sorry, sweetie, I can’t help you till I’ve had my coffee.
Leonard: Penny, I told you if you don’t put him in his crate at night he just runs around the apartment.
Penny: What is he doing now?
Leonard: Mmm, he’s either isolating the terms of his formula and examining them individually, or looking for the alligator that swallowed his hand after Peter Pan cut it off.
Sheldon: Captain Hook’s hand was eaten by a crocodile, not an alligator. If you’re going to mock me, at least get your facts straight.
Leonard: Aye, aye, Captain.
Sheldon: I can't see it! It just won't coalesce!
Leonard: Maybe you need a fresh start.
Sheldon: You're right. [picks up whiteboard, wastefully drops it out apartment window causing a car crash, and takes a blank one from his desk] It was a great idea, Leonard. Thank you.

Sandy: (Sits down at her desk) So, Mr. Cooper, you're looking for a job.
Sheldon: A menial job. Like yours.
Sandy: Why, thank you for noticing. I'm menial employee of the month. Do you have a particular field in mind?
Sheldon: I do. For thousands of years the lowest classes of the human race have spent their lives laboring to erect monuments under the lash of their betters, until finally they dropped down and became one with the dust through which they trudged. Do you have anything like that?
Sandy: No.
Sheldon: Shouldn't you check your database?
Sandy : [pretends to type on her keyboard] No.
Sheldon: You didn't really type.
Sandy: I didn't really have to. So, how about construction?
Sheldon: Oh, that would be good! Sawing, hammering, eating out of a lunch pail as my working-class fellows and I sit perched precariously on a girder high above the metropolis.
Sandy: No, no. This is putting up sheet rock at a housing project in Rosemead.
Sheldon: I could do that.
Sandy: Good.
Sheldon: One question?
Sandy: Yes?
Sheldon: What's sheet rock?
Sandy: ...Moving on. How about doing deliveries for a florist?
Sheldon: That seems acceptable.
Sandy: Do you have your own car?
Sheldon: I don't drive.
Sandy: ...Of course you don't. Mr. Cooper, let me just ask you a question: what was your last job?
Sheldon: Senior theoretical particle physicist at Caltech, focusing on M-theory, or, in layman's words, string theory.
Sandy: I see. Just give me a second. (Closes Sheldon's file, stands up and walks off-screen; loudly) SECURITY!

(Scene: A kids play area)
Leonard: Hi, I'm Doctor Hofstadter. Where is he?
Glenn: Ball pit.
(Cuts to the ball pit with Sheldon building something with the balls)
Leonard: Thanks for not calling the cops.
Glenn: Oh, hey. It's no big deal. My sister's got a kid who's special.
Leonard: Yeah, well. He's extra special. (turns to Sheldon) Hey, Shelly. (Sheldon continues to build) What'cha doing?
Sheldon: Size ratio was all wrong. Couldn’t visualize it. Needed bigger carbon atoms.
Leonard: Sure, sure. How did you get into this place?
Sheldon: Back door has a five-pin tumbler system, single-circuit alarm. Child’s play. You can start sorting protons and neutrons while I build carbon atoms.
Leonard: No, I don’t think so. We need to go home now.
Sheldon: But I’m still working.
Leonard: If you don't come out of there, I'm going to have to drag you out.
Sheldon: You can try, but you'll never catch me. (he disappears under the balls)
Leonard: (becoming frustrated and angry) For God's sakes Sheldon, come here!
Sheldon: (popping his head out) Bazinga. (disappears, pops up elsewhere in the ball pit) Bazinga. (and again) Bazinga. (and again) Bazinga. (and again) Bazinga.

Bernadette: (as she and Penny come up the stairs) Oh, my God, have you ever been so embarrassed?
Penny: Not recently.
Bernadette: I don’t know which was lamer, their roller-skating or their disco dancing.
Penny: For me, the worst part was when people saw us leave with them.
Leonard: You had some nice moves out there, Howard.
Howard: Thanks. You, too.
Leonard: Yeah. Did you notice all the people looking at us?
Howard: Not really. I was in my boogie zone.
Bernadette: When Howard tried to do the splits…
Penny: Shh.
Leonard: Sorry. I’m moving a little slow. I think I bruised my coccyx.
Penny: Oh, poor baby.
Leonard: Don’t tell Koothrappali. After you.
Penny: Oh, what a gentleman. Hey, Sheldon. (steps on marbles which are all over the floor, screams and falls)
Leonard: Oh, my God! Are you… (falls as well)
Sheldon: Good Lord! You’re ruining everything!
Penny: Oh, damn.
Leonard: Are you okay?
Penny: (sarcastically) Do I look okay?
Leonard: Don’t bark at me. I fell, too.
Penny: (still sarcastically) Oh, you’ve been falling all night. You’re used to it.
Howard: Sheldon, what the hell are you doing?
Sheldon: The same thing I’ve been doing for three days. Trying to figure out why electrons behave as if they have no mass when travelling through a graphene sheet.
Bernadette: (sounding worried) With marbles?
Sheldon: Well, I needed something bigger than peas, now, didn’t I?
Bernadette: Sheldon, when was the last time you got any sleep?
Sheldon: I don’t know, two, three days. Not important. I don’t need sleep, I need answers. I need to determine where in this swamp of unbalanced formulas squatteth the toad of truth.
Penny: Toad of truth? Is that a physics thing?
Leonard: No, that’s a crazy thing.
Bernadette: Okay, Sheldon. What happens to our neuroreceptors when we don’t get enough REM sleep?
Sheldon: They lose their sensitivity to serotonin and norepinephrine.
Bernadette: Which leads to…?
Sheldon: Impaired cognitive function.
Bernadette: Right, (now bosses Sheldon curtly) so march in there, brush your teeth and go to bed!
Sheldon: But I don’t want to go to bed.
Bernadette: I’m going to count to three. One…
Sheldon: (resentfully) Oh, all right!
Leonard: (impressed) That was amazing how you handled him.
Bernadette: I know how to deal with stubborn children. My mother used to run an illegal day care center in our basement.

Scene opens with Sheldon taping on the wall above the bed in which Leonard and Penny are sleeping
Sheldon: (knock, knock, knock) Leonard and Penny. (knock, knock, knock) Leonard and Penny.
Penny: (wakes up, is startled by Sheldon and screams)
Sheldon: (knock, knock, knock) Leonard and Penny.
Leonard: (angrily) WHAT?
Sheldon: I have good news.
Leonard: (in frustration) And you had to barge in here in the middle of the night and wake us up?!
Sheldon: Your cell phone was off.
Leonard: That's because we didn't want to be disturbed!
Sheldon: Well that didn't work out did it?
Penny: Sheldon, what do you want?
Sheldon: I came to tell you I've got the answer.
Leonard: Really? You figured out the graphene problem?
Sheldon: No, no; I'm still hopelessly stuck on that, but I figured out how to figure it out.
Penny: Hey, you know Leonard, I know I said I could handle your roommate, but I was wrong. We're going to have to break-up.
Leonard: (to Sheldon) What are you talking about?
Sheldon: Einstein.
Leonard: Yeah, I'm going to need a little more.
Sheldon: Albert Einstein.
Leonard: Keep going.