How the Large Hadron Collider captured our imaginations

Drew Turney reviews a new documentary that looks inside the world's biggest physics experiment. 

Particle Fever
Director: Mark Levinson, Madman (2013), Run time: 99 min

Science has broken its banks and captured the popular imagination, and this film documents the event.

Last year, even people normally uninterested in science were intrigued by news of the biggest physics experiment in human history – the search for the “God particle” – fuelled as they were by tabloid speculation that a black hole would open on the Swiss–French border or that we might actually discover God.

And references to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in a forthcoming movie – The God Particle – by popular director J.J. Abrams further underline the mainstreaming of science in popular culture.

Particle Fever is a documentary that follows the story of the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. As dramatic and emotional as any thriller, it shows the excitement, and intermittent emotional crashes, of the scientists and engineers as they worked on the project – hence the title.

When the LHC was switched on and its first signal confirmed in late 2008, cheers broke out across the control rooms. But they were quickly stifled – a helium leak almost immediately shut down the whole operation for more than a year.

Still, the teams persevered until in July 2012 the Higgs was detected. As captured in the film the scene is enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, such was the elation as the relieved workers applauded the most significant breakthrough in our understanding of physics since Einstein.

Particle Fever explains why the Higgs boson matters and what the LHC will tell us about it. – Madman

The achievements the film documents aren’t limited purely to the scientific – as someone observes during the proceedings, few other recent pursuits have brought representatives of avowed enemies such as Iran and Israel or India and Pakistan together for a common goal.

Particle Fever provides enlightening background with experts clearly explaining what the Higgs boson is, why it matters, and what the LHC tells us about it. But even if you don’t follow every twist of their explanations, you’ll be swept along in their enthusiasm.

If you are interested in terms such as supersymmetry, or in why the Higgs is science’s biggest popular meme, Particle Fever is a great place to start.

Particle Fever is released on Thursday, 27 November.

Congratulation to the winners of our Particle Fever competition who have been notified by email.

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