Mark Levinson’s thrilling new documentary “Particle Fever,” which depicts the 2012 discovery of the fabled Higgs boson – the Holy Grail of particle physics, and makes the greatest scientific achievement of our new century come alive, and by making the theoretical and experimental frontiers of physics seem so profoundly urgent and cool. The film captures the collective worldwide excitement when the LHC comes online for the first time, and when two separate teams of researchers confirm the discovery of the previously unknown elementary particle with a mass between 125 and 127 giga-electron-volts.
Levinson swings back and forth, O'Heir says, between the two interdependent realms of physics research, the theoretical and the experimental. "Some theorists," he writes, "lean toward the “multiverse” model – the anti-supersymmetrical idea that our universe is just one bubble of an infinity of bubbles and create breathtaking mathematical models that may shed light on the many unexplained mysteries of physical reality. But without experimental physicists like Fabiola Gianotti and Monica Dunford, who helped design, build and run the LHC — apparently the largest and most sophisticated machine ever built by human beings – their theoretical models could never be anything more than extremely well-informed speculation."
The film shows a global community of scientists who are working at the intellectual leading edge of physics, in territory, O'Heir observes, that once would have sounded more like theology or science fiction."How do we account for the fine-tuning of the universe," O'Heir asks, "for the fact that the Big Bang and the subsequent events produced stars, planets and ultimately organic life forms, when there seems to be no inevitable or inescapable reason why it should have turned out that way? (Of course, as various progenitors of the “anthropic principle” have noted, the only possible universe we can observe is one that has evolved to have observers in it.) Supersymmetry and the multiverse hypothesis supply different potential answers: Maybe there is an inherent and immutable order and we just can’t see it yet, or maybe we just happen to live in a 'lucky' universe, surrounded by kazillions of others that are balls of gas or goo without matter or life."
“Particle Fever” is now playing in Los Angeles, New York, Santa Barbara, Calif., and Toronto. It opens March 14 in Chicago, Nashville, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle; March 19 in Ithaca, N.Y.; March 21 in Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Diego and Washington; March 28 in Atlanta, Houston, Kansas City, Santa Fe, N.M., and Columbus, Ohio; April 4 in Charlotte, N.C., Charlottesville, Va., and Boise, Idaho; April 11 in Albany, N.Y.; and April 18 in Eugene, Ore., Knoxville, Tenn., and Austin, Texas, with more cities, online streaming and home video to follow.
The image at the top of the page shows the ghostly blue clouds in the center of the Abell 1689 galaxy cluster above show where astronomers think dark matter is hiding. Abell 1689 is home to about 1,000 galaxies and trillions of stars. Both the visible galaxies and dark matter add to the gravitational pull in a cluster. These gravitational forces act like a lens, and when light passes through a cluster like Abell 1689, it bends.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Coe (NASA JPL/Caltech and STScI)