Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Particle Fever

If the Higgs Boson had turned out to be 115 gigaelectonvolts it would have supported the theoretical notion of supersymmetry, filling in the missing piece of the puzzle about the Standard Model of matter. If it had weighed in at 140 it would argued the idea of the multiverse, a concept which led to the frightening idea of chaos, in which the particle itself would prove to be less a key to the understanding of what happened at the time of the big bang than a kind epistemological black hole. As it was in 2012 when the two beams of protons traveling near the speed of light through the l7 mile long LHC actually began to collide, the Boson turned out to be uncooperative coming in about 126 GeV, a number that left more questions than answers and supported neither theory. At one point during Particle Fever Mark Levinson’s almost Socratic dialogue between the experimental and theoretical physicists involved with CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, an economist asks how the enormously expensive and time consuming activity can be justified. “What is it good for? “ he demands to know, about a project which for some scientists is comparable in ambition to the building of the Pyramids. “Nothing except understanding everything,” is the response of the David Kaplan, a physicist who is also the film’s narrator. On a more basic level have you ever wondered, what really goes on inside the LHC where the conditions that occurred at the moment of the big bang are duplicated? Have you ever tried to imagine how energy of this scale could be generated (giant super cooled magnets are used) or what it would look like? Then Particle Fever takes you inside the inner workers of a project involving thousands of scientists sometimes from warring counties like Pakistan and India, Georgia and Russia who all work together to try to unearth the secrets of things like the cosmological constant, dark matter and the reason why the universe continues to expand. The reclusive Peter Higgs, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 2013 and who doesn’t even own a cellphone or employ the internet (“Nobel Prize winner Peter Higgs doesn’t own a cellphone or use the internet,” The Week, 10/8/13), even makes a cameo appearance in a film that unlocks secrets of nature, science and even art.

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