Inside the Large Hadron Collider, CERN, Geneva Switzerland – Photo courtesy of CERN
In 2008, physicist David Kaplan and the entire physics community found themselves at a pivotal moment. The world’s biggest and most expensive science experiment, a particle accelerator called the Large Hadron Collider, was about to be turned on, and if everything went according to plan, they were poised to make a discovery that could change our understanding of the universe. It’s the kind of moment that, if you’re lucky, only comes along once in a scientific career. It was a moment David Kaplan didn’t want to keep to himself.
With decades of theory hanging in the balance and the work of thousands scientists about to be put to the test, David set out to make a film, and do what most science documentaries do not: capture the drama of scientific discovery as it happens. He teamed up with director Mark Levinson — who also has a PhD in physics from Berkeley — to make the documentary Particle Fever.
The film follows six physicists from 2008 to 2012 as they search for the Higgs Boson, an elusive sub-atomic particle that gives mass to all the matter in the universe. It may not sound like a big deal, but it’s really the biggest of deals. Without the Higgs there would be no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no atoms, no us.
In Particle Fever we watch as the physicists struggle with experimental setbacks, wrestle with profound questions about the structure of the universe, and we get to sit in on the moment of truth when the Higgs discovery is announced in 2012.
Last week I sat down with physicist David Kaplan and director Mark Levinson to talk about Particle Fever, the world of theoretical physics, and the ways that art and creativity factor in to the scientific process.
Also this week, we hear from artist Bill Fontana who spent time as the Artist in Residence at the Large Hadron Collider.
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