Monday, March 24, 2014

Top Five Films about the Higgs Boson

I just got my tickets for tonight's showing of Particle Fever, the new documentary about physicists at CERN looking for the Higgs boson. I'm pretty stoked, I'll post a review of it tomorrow Friday.

Particle Fever (2013)


It got me thinking about how over the last couple of years, there's been a whole mess of full length features and short films released featuring real particle physicists talking about and doing real science. It's been an exciting time in the field, and moviemakers have really picked up on it. Not only that, but it's easier than ever for scientists to make their own shorts about their science. So I came up with a list of the top five movies about the Higgs boson. In no particular order...

The Atom Smashers (2008)


Probably the film that really kicked off the genre was The Atom Smashers, directed by Clayton Brown and Monica Ross for PBS's Independent Lens. The film follows researchers at FermiLab in Illinois as they vie to find the Higgs boson before the rival Large Hadron Collider switches on in 2008.

Colliding Particles (2009-2013)


The Colliding Particles series of short films tells the Higgs hunt story from the other side of the Atlantic. It starts out following theorists at CERN, the lab in Switzerland where the LHC is based, as they gear up for the activation of the machine. It's unique because its 12 episodes offer an inside look at the LHC's highly anticipated activation, the nearly disastrous accident just a week later, the year of downtime as repairs slowly commenced, the much celebrated reactivation of the machine, the discovery of the Higgs boson itself and how scientists respond to the outcome.

PHD Comics: The Higgs Boson Explained (2012)


Physicists in these films are all urgently looking for evidence of the Higgs boson, but what exactly is it? Cartoonist and filmmaker Jorge Cham, author of PhD Comics, talked to Daniel Whiteson, a researcher at CERN, to figure out what all the fuss is about, then animated that interview. Its a fascinating rumination not only about what the Higgs boson is, but also whether that's really the last particle to discover.

Minute Physics (2011-    )


For those out there who like physics explained with drawings, but have short attention spans, the ongoing YouTube series Minute Physics is for you. Set to a cool jazz baseline, Henry Reich's series explains complex science using stick figures with a dry wit. He also stays current. Whenever there's a major breakthrough in the news, an explanatory episode is sure to follow.  With over 100 episodes in his archive, Reich can be forgiven if Minute Physics sometimes meanders into the other sciences, or lasts longer than a minute.

Large Hadron Rap (2008)


Filmed on location at CERN, Katherine McAlpine raps about the LHC, the Higgs boson, the conservation of energy and falling off your bicycle. For a subject as obtuse as fundamental physics, the rhymes roll off with surprising fluidity. It's also an excellent introduction to the four major experiments at the LHC, and what they're looking for.

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