Published Mar 06, 2014For anyone remotely familiar with European Organization for Nuclear Research's recent experiments involving the large hadron collider (or LHC), the major questions regarding their search for the elusive Higgs-Boson particle centered around what exactly they were doing and why it ultimately mattered. In bringing cameras inside the world's largest particle collider and profiling those who have invested decades in the experiment in some cases, the documentary Particle Fever is a profoundly fascinating glimpse at evolving science to the brink of its own extinction.
Careful to portray both points of view, the film spans years in the lives of those on both the theoretical side and the experimental side. On one hand, we have those like Savas Dimopoulos and Nima Arkhani-Hamed, two generations of esteemed particle physicists who worry that the results could invalidate the time they have spent in their field. On the other is Monica Dunford, a relatively green physicist who fell in love with the practical application of the theories and works in ATLAS, one of four teams situated inside the LHC.
As the initial media buzz of the first beam being launched gives way to a long delay due to a helium leak, the years pass with doubts lurking about whether any results will ever be attainable. Once things are up and running again, though, the data being collected and interpreted leads to speculation that it may not yield the conclusions many were hoping to draw.
Since there's no possible way that the film could have us fully grasp all of the complex science expressed in the equations we see on blackboards throughout, it should be commended for doling out enough information to at least understand the big picture. One mind-expanding sequence, which details the implications of how discovering the Higgs could point to our world existing in an unstable multiverse rather than supporting a more palatable theory of supersymmetry, goes a long way towards elucidating the dire consequences that could be at stake.
If the final determinations made from spending billions of dollars to construct the LHC remain a little ambiguous, the euphoria of those involved is still palpable and contagious. It's these personalities that serve as helpful entry points into a strange and intimidating world, putting a human face flush with passion and enthusiasm on concepts that are largely inscrutable.
The greatest character of all may still be the towering presence of the LHC itself, an impossibly intricate structure that represents the pinnacle of technology and design. Colliding beams at high speeds and determining the very nature and origins of our universe, it can't help but appear at least a little terrifying.
(Films We Like)