Culture & Entertainment

Particle Fever—a highly deserving word-of-mouth hit

By: Guest Blogger
Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

Particle Fever—a highly deserving word-of-mouth hit

By: Guest Blogger
Particle Fever If you like a good documentary and live in or around Toronto, I highly recommend heading to the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema this week for Particle Fever, a very well-made, miraculously lucid film about a very complex subject: the launching of the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the elusive Higgs Boson, more commonly (and misleadingly) known as the “God Particle.” If you were as bad at high school science as I was, this might not sound so appealing, but part of the wonder of the movie is that it helps you understand—at least in laymen’s terms—some very abstract, technical stuff. I know I’m not the only science dunce who dug it: according to the Bloor Hot Docs programmers, audiences have been growing steadily, so much so that the run has been extended for an extra week. Here’s what you need to know going in: the Large Hadron Collider is, at five stories high and 27 km in circumference, the largest machine ever built (and one of the most expensive), yet it has no practical applications whatsoever. Its sole purpose: to test various theories of particle physics, and specifically to prove or disprove the existence of the theorized Higgs boson, which is basically the missing link in the widely accepted “Standard Model” of particle physics. You don’t need to understand precisely what the machine does to enjoy the film. In fact, it kind of helps if you don’t, because then you can focus on what the film is actually about, which is the scientists themselves. We meet half a dozen or so of them—some are theoretical physicists cloistered within academia, others are experimental physicists working directly with the LHC—and we get totally caught up in their mounting enthusiasm and anxiety. The film documents the lead-up to the LHC’s first test run—a moment more than 20 years in the making—and it’s not overstating things to say that the men and women involved have staked their entire lives on it. As one of them explains early in the film, it’s a zero-sum game: if the LHC flops, their whole careers will have been wasted. And even if it succeeds, the “wrong” answers about the Higgs boson might violate everything they thought they knew about life, leaving them crumpled, shattered wrecks. Ultimately, the film is about how all of us—scientists, farmers, web developers, nurses, truck drivers—become wrapped up in what we do, and how disturbing it can be if that sense of identity is taken away from us. When one of the theoretical physicists contemplates the possibility that his life’s work might be rendered null and void, you can almost see the existential tremors washing over him. If you’ve kept up with science news, you know how things turned out for him and the others, but the film will grip you either way. (Image courtesy of PF Productions)
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Particle Fever—a highly deserving word-of-mouth hit

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