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So, Hollywood really likes to make scientists and mathematicians write on Plexiglas (or mirrors, or windows, or other transparent or reflective surfaces). Presumably it's so they can get shots like this one:

Gaussian proportions!

With a face behind a wall of equations - no mathematician or scientist I have ever known has done anything even remotely like this.

I'm curious to know how this got started. The oldest example I've been able to think of is the scene the image is from, in Sneakers (1992), but that's still pretty recent...

This TVTropes page is tangentially relevant (and has a few examples buried throughout).

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If I'm not mistaken, I'd wager the image above actually shows your scientist in front of a projector. His shadow obscures some of the text, which would only happen if he were standing in front of it and not behind it. Semantics, I'm sure, but just wanted to point that out. –  Johnny Bones Jun 14 at 15:22

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They can't have the main actors turning his back from the camera for a long time, so they do this to give them more face camera time. Also, it looks that the characters can't contain the urge to display his intelligence.

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While not actually an answer to the question, I +1'd because it's most certainly the reason this trope was invented. –  Johnny Bones Jun 14 at 15:24

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