Friday, June 04, 2010

The Real World: Geneva

The folks from PFILM have released the latest episode of the most awesome show on the web, Colliding Particles. Their sixth episode, “Beam,” stalks particle physicists at the LHC and reveals the level of competition between the Higgs hunting teams of the ATLAS and CMS instruments. Okay, so there's no sexual exploits (these are physicists after all) or made-for-TV drama, but it's still really cool.



As the show's creators describe it on their site, Colliding Particles is meant to "stimulate interest in the process of scientific discovery." The ten minute-ish episodes do a fantastic job of it too. It's like the best TED talks you've ever seen, but pieced together with a dramatic storyline. I would guess the public assumes a physicist's life is as exciting as I think investment banking would be, but the continued success of this genre shows that the process of discovery is still something dramatic and inspiring to people.

"I've always wanted to do a project that tries to capture the long term nature of research which wasn't just about the science, but also about the process of how science gets done on a day-to day basis," show producer Mike Paterson said in an email.

The show is at a level anyone could understand, so if you have some experience in physics, Colliding Particles won't teach you anything radically new. (Let's face it though, most people will never need an understanding of the standard model to successfully go about their daily lives, let alone worry about potential problems with it.) It will totally change your perspective on what it's like to work at CERN and live all things Higgs though.

Obviously, it won't ever be as absurdly popular as the likes of The Elegant Universe (I'll take you on another day Dr. Greene), but according to Paterson, thousands of people are watching it every week and that's more than respectable for a made-for-web show. The ATLAS team is worried because they're a month behind CMS and CMS is scared because they're losing half-an-hour of data a day: what's not to love? And with its HD video, pro-editing and killer story line, the quality rivals any PBS or other top-tier documentary.

Paterson says Colliding Particles only has funding for one more episode (scheduled for release in August), which will cover the announcement of the initial results from the LHC at the International Conference on Particle Physics in Paris later this summer. We don't have to be sad though; according to Paterson there are plans in the works for a feature length film based on the show.

All webisodes of Colliding Particles are available free on www.collidingparticles.com

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