Thursday, August 14, 2014

Particle Fever

Particle Fever (2013; Mark Levinson) is about the discovery of the Higgs boson by the scientists who worked on and in the Large Hadron Collider in Lucerne, Switzerland.  The subject is exciting but difficult, and this film succeeds in part by not taking it too seriously.  It explains well enough the importance of the Higgs and shows how scientists used colliding particle beams to detect it.  What it does best is convey the enthusiasm and excitement of the scientists working in the HLC, especially when it is turned on for the first time, and when the Higgs is at last detected.  The director relies on interviews with various scientists to explain the Collider and the Higgs.  Of particular interest is the mass of the Higgs.  If it’s discovered with one particular mass, then scientists will have a good chance of confirming super symmetry, a theory that has the potential to provide a unifying explanation for why the universe works as it does.  If it is detected with a different mass, then the possibility of a multiverse might mean the end of physics research, because whatever else there is to discover may be beyond the reach of scientists in this universe to detect.  The film makes clear the importance of the distinction and conveys how several of the researchers are deeply concerned that their lifetime of research may be for naught.  In the end, the Higgs is discovered with a mass midway between the two extremes.  No one quite knows what that means. 

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