Scientists are the super sleuths in Mark Levinson’s smartly entertaining thriller of a documentary that chronicles the quest for fundamental knowledge about the origins of the universe. Using the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest machine, they’re searching for the elusive Higgs boson, the world’s smallest subatomic particle. Even if you think science isn’t your thing, this fascinating film will spark your imagination. Particle Fever is contagious. Read on…
Gathered in Switzerland, at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), are a thousand of the world’s most brilliant physicists, about to fire up the Large Hadron Collider to initiate an experiment that has been in the planning and implementation stages since the mid-1980s.
In an as yet untried series of tests, they hope to bash subatomic particles — protons or neutrons — into each other at the speed of light, breaking them into heretofore unknown, unmeasured smaller particles, including and especially the postulated Higgs boson, an elusive entity named for Peter Ware Higgs, the Nobel laureate whose calculations set off this long-term search for a crucial piece of the magnificent puzzle we call the universe.
A Universal Primer
If that seems like too much physics for you to wrap tour mind around, fear not. You don’t have to be steeped in science to understand the drama of what’s happening in this film.
As the documentary introduces you to six of the dedicated scientists and engineers — personable brainiacs, all — who’ve spent decades developing and building the Large Hadron Collider, you will be drawn into their suspense and feel their excitement and anxiety, and you will begin to understand why this singular experiment is so important.
So important that it has taken decades to prepare for it. So important that thousands of scientists have been employed on the project, many of them having spent their entire careers on it and/or put their professional reputations on the line for it. So important that men and women from 100 countries — some of which are currently at war with each other — have left political rivalries and strife and philosophical differences behind in order to closely collaborate with each other in this extraordinary attempt to unravel universal mysteries.
History in The Making
The project began during the mid-1980s, and the physical building of the Large Hadron Collider took from 1998 to 2008. It is the largest machine every built by human beings, and contains a 17 mile long cylindrical particle accelerator that runs beams of subatomic particles into each other at the speed of light, and then monitors the debris as it passes by various sensors and observation stations where scientists can examine, measure and catalog the results of the collision.
How Do You Make A Movie About Invisible Particles?
Filmmaker Mark Levinson — who is both physicist and documentarian — is the perfect interpreter of all this science, and he captures the nuances of the drama and suspense that builds as events unfold.
Levinson’s six leading characters — half of them are theorists and the other half are experimenters — are extremely engaging, and together they present a comprehensive overview of the what the experiment involves and what it means.
Subatomic particles and particle behavior are not actually ‘visible’ to anything other than extremely sensitive sensors, so.Levinson uses exciting graphics — think Fourth of July fireworks — to illustrate what happens inside the collider.
He rounds out the story with a wise and comprehensive worldly context, telling how the U.S. government, deciding not to build a nuclear research center and collider, delivered this prestigious brain trust plus thousands of high level scientific and technical jobs to the European Union. He informs that the World Wide Web was invented so that scientists from around the globe could be kept up to date on the building of the Large Hadron Collider, and could challenge each other on theory and the math.
Levinson treats the Large Hadron Collider as a character, too — one that’s every bit as engaging as and even more impressive than a mechanical monster that squashes semi trucks and knocks down buildings. He takes us into an environment that is as different and mind-blowing as any space craft that soars through a narrative feature.
The Bottom Line:
What actually happens when the Large Hadron Collider is fired up? No spoilers here. See the movie to find out.
See the movie even if you already know the outcome of the experiment and know a lot about the science. It’s that good.
And remember this alert: Particle Fever is contagious.