Friday, March 28, 2014

I Got a Fever, and the Only Prescription is More Particles!

Particle Fever is a new documentary that brings viewers inside the home stretch of the decades-long hunt for the so-called "God Particle."

Image: PF Productions
CERN's search for the Higgs boson has everything a film could ask for; amazing visuals of the alien-looking Large Hadron Collider, the dramatic anticipation of whether it works, the heartbreak of near disaster and ultimate triumph of discovery. A Hollywood screenwriter couldn't have come up with a better story of science.

Particle Fever follows the lab's top scientists in the months leading to the completion of the LHC and the discovery of the Higgs boson, four years later. The theorists and experimentalists are the film's stars and seeing their contrasting approaches to understanding the elusive particle is the most interesting dynamic of the film.

The theorists delve into labyrinthine debates with each other about the implications of possible masses of the then-undiscovered particle. Their debate centers around whether a lighter particle would imply the existence of supersymmetry or a heavier particle means the existence of a multiverse.

"You got to go come back to the experimental world so that you can touch bases with reality," reminds Monica Dunford, an experimentalist from the University of Chicago.

Dunford emerges from a bank of computers that process data for the LHC's ATLAS experiment.
Image: PF Productions

The film centers around the human drama behind the Higgs hunt, and Particle Fever puts the audience right in the room where history is being made. The access the filmmakers had to the people and events is really astounding. We're right there when the machine turns on for the first time, and when the Higgs is finally announced. Most amazingly, viewers are there in the control room when just days after the LHC's highly anticipated first shot, it experienced a catastrophic "quench" that knocked the machine out of commission for over a year. You don't have to be a particle physicist to feel the panic of watching all the indicators in the control room suddenly flash from green to red.

As much of a star of the show is the Large Hadron Collider itself. The 27-kilometer ring of powerful magnets, advanced beam tubes and sensitive detectors is lovingly captured on film and given a real sense of scale. This machine is big, complex and completely unlike anything else in the world today.

CERN's five-story tall ATLAS detector. Image: PF Productions



I have a soft spot for science documentaries, especially about big machines looking for small particles. Particle Fever is a unique look inside a modern physics discovery that celebrates the real people who worked long and hard to make it happen.

4 comments:

  1. Anyone who knows of more science documentaries like this one?
    Especially concerning Quantum Mechanics and particle physics.

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  2. I wrote a blog post about this a few days ago actually. Here are a couple of good starting points: http://physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com/2014/03/top-five-films-about-higgs-boson.html

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  3. That which is defined cannot be defined. But it's flattering watching them try...

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  4. I just saw this movie. It was amazing. I'm not embarrassed to admit that I got a little teary eyed during parts.

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