The big whirl of little atoms: Particle Fever ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 15, 2014)

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What I know about particle physics couldn’t fill a flea’s codpiece. And if you’re like me (isn’t everyone?), I’d bet you don’t spend a good deal of your day contemplating quarks, hadrons, mesons or baryons (wasn’t he a famous English poet?). Nonetheless, I found Particle Fever, physicist-turned-filmmaker Mark Levinson’s documentary about a group of folks who do spend a good deal of their day thinking about such things, to be much more riveting than I had expected. Levinson documents the years of experiments and painstaking analysis that led up to the astounding announcement in 2012 that scientists had successfully identified the elusive “Higgs boson” (aka “The God Particle”), which could be the crucial key in proving that The Big Bang is, well, more than just a “theory”.

Levinson gives equal time to the empirical and theoretical schools of thought on this groundbreaking discovery. The former group is represented by the physicists who work at CERN, which houses the Large Hadron Collider (an immense complex that resembles the set of Metropolis), and the latter by academics and theoreticians. While largely concerning itself with the parsing of the scientific minutiae, it is the sometimes uneasy yet necessary yin-yang partnership between those camps that lends the film a very human center. One theoretical physicist sums it up best when he bemusedly wonders aloud if this discovery makes the previous 40 years of his life meaningless. Higgs boson only knows…

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