Saturday, November 15, 2014

Particle Fever (2013)

The Higgs boson walks into a church and is immediately asked to leave.  The Higgs boson asks, “But, without me, how can you have mass?”

The Standard Model of physics states that there is a set of fundamental particles, quarks   There are also fundamental forces, each with their own carrier.  Electromagnetism, for instance, has the photon as a force carrier.  Scientists have been able to confirm predictions made by the standard model, but some work remains to be done.  (I don’t think a graviton has ever been confirmed experimentally.)

Particle Fever follows part of the work done to confirm the Higgs Boson, which is said to be responsible for mass.  Part of the movie shows the Large Hadron Collider and the problems that arose during the planned experiments.  Some go well, but others have to be delayed due to parts breaking.  (Nothing ever goes entirely as planned.)  The other part of the movie deals with the background information.  We’re presented with different theories on what the Higgs Boson might look like and what different results might mean for the scientific community.

The movie isn’t particularly heavy on the science.  Someone who made it through science in high school should be able to follow what’s going on.  The movie is primarily about the search and the people who want to find it.  There is some science.  There is some basic stuff on what the Standard Model is.  We also learn why the specific details of the Higgs Boson is important.  If it’s on the lighter side, there would still be more to figure out about the universe.  If it’s too heavy, it would mean that there’s little left for us to confirm experimentally.

One of the problems with documentaries is that you often know the outcome.  If you’ve been reading the paper or watching the evening news, you’ve probably heard that the experiments were successful.  (I doubt I’d be ruining the movie for anyone by stating that.)  the movie at least shows what it was like doing the work.  When all you see is a headline and a brief article, you may not be aware of how the whole story went down.  The documentary gives is able to go into more detail and show some of the people that made it happen.

I haven’t met many people that are particularly interested in science.  As long as the GPS works, we tend not to worry about how understanding relativity helped make that happen.  The Internet and the World Wide Web came out of a need to share information.  Interestingly, CERN put up the first Web site.  I always wonder if they realized that it would evolve into a place to find pictures of cats.

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