Friday, March 21, 2014
"Particle Fever": documentary about CERN LHC experiment looking for the "God particle" Higgs boson; the fate of the universe hangs on it
Is it possible to make a compelling, suspenseful non-fiction documentary based on mathematics and physics? You know, with a beginning, middle and end? It seems that Mark Levinson has achieved this for Participant Media with “Particle Fever”, giving a chronicle of the physics experiments at the CERN and its Large Hadron Collider in 2008 (web site ).The film appears at the same time that Fox and NatGeo are presenting their new "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" series.
Physicists come from all over the world and live in an academic village on the border of Switzerland and France, to work at the facility, just barely in Switzerland, with the 17-mile underground circular tube for accelerating particles. There are similar facilities in Illinois, and Texas (south of Dallas).
The goal is to find the missing “Higgs boson” particle, and measure its mass. If it’s mass is just right, there is support for the “supersymmetry” theory of the universe, which could suggest that the universe was created deliberately with exactly the right values for all the physical constants so that all the major forces work properly and ultimately conscious life, capable of free will, can develop in some places. A high value for its mass would mean that our universe may be one of infinitely (perhaps countably so) many universes in a multiverse, with totally random values for constants, most of them not able to develop meaningful structures leading eventually to life. An intermediate result might suggest symmetry, but an unstable one, which could lead to the demise of the universe.
A number of the scientists are personally interesting. Maybe the lead professor is Nima Arkani-Hamed, who came to Canada from Iran with his parents as a boy and is now a physics professor at Stanford. Other professors include Monica Dumford, Fabiola Gianotti, Savas Dimopoulos, and Martin Aleska, who physically resembles Nima and could be confused with him in spots.
One of the scientists talks about the different between experimental and theoretical physics. Some problems have their own time to be solved (like the infamous 4-color problem of topology and graph theory which was solved at the University of Connecticut). These individuals like to find absolute truth for a living, rather than concern themselves with hocking things to people just to support families. They have their own separate world/
There were doomsdayers who claimed that the Hadron could cause the world to be swallowed by a black hole or tuned into strangelet grey goo (UK story here ).
Google sponsored a QA with the filmmakers, lasting almost an hour.
The official site is here.
I saw the film before a fair crowd late Friday at Landmark E Street in Washington DC. The evening shows sold out, though in a small auditorium.
Wikipedia attribution link for LHC components.