Particle Fever   —   about the Movie

"I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have
been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and
then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the
great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

— Isaac Newton


If you could have met Sir Isaac Newton while he was discovering the Law of Universal Gravity, would you?

Based in Europe, Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the largest experiment in history, will search for an understanding of matter, space and time.  If the experiment works, a probable stake, it will accomplish one of two things:  (1) it will either be the most important discovery about the physical world in over a century, or (2) it will prove that the last 30 years of research have lead to a dead end.

If it is the latter, what began with Newton, could end with this experiment.  If it is the former, we could discover something as astounding as real physical extra dimensions of space.  We, the physicists of our time, are betting our careers, our livelihood, on the latter.

LHC turns on next year, but the fever begins this summer with Particle Fever — a film that explains what lead to this pivotal moment and why some of the best physicists in the world are in a mild state of anxiety, filled with excitement.  Their fear is growing more intense as LHC draws near. What will the outcome of this experiment mean through the eyes and lives of the greatest minds on earth?

As a laboratory in Geneva gets ready to announce the fate of Nature, these physicists will become vulnerable.  Will they be rewarded for their lifelong efforts, or will their entire field collapse before them, discarding their theories as an afterthought in the history of science?

For the first time, cameras will capture the physicists before the coming of a scientific revolution.  Now is the only chance to record such a moment.  For the physicists of our time, it's now or never.  Want to meet them?

Particle Fever — who are the "Newtons" of our time... and what are they discovering?






About Particle Fever

The film is structured around following six to ten of the best physicists in the world who study the Laws of Nature — the rules by which the Universe is governed.  We track their progress and emotional state from now until the moment the LHC — the experiment that will test their theories — turns on.  There is great tension for the theorists because they might discover that their life's work was a waste.  The tension for the experimentalists will revolve around whether the machine will work, will it work on time, will their funding remain in tact as they attempt to build this engineering marvel.  We explore sources of this tension — arguments within the physics community, engineering failures, and budget cuts.  We'll look back at some of the great successes of the past as well as one of the massive failures — the canceling of the even bigger SSC experiment by congress in the 90's.  Some of the tension of the experimentalists will be resolved as we film until the machine turns on.  The theorists tension will remain, with some resolution in final interviews with them asking them what they will do once they know the answers.

The LHC experiment is a circular particle accelerator nearly 17 miles in circumference.  It is in a tunnel 300 feet below the ground and lies just northwest of Geneva, half in Switzerland and half in France.  The experiment will accelerate billions of protons around the ring, to just about the speed of light in both directions, and have them collide into each other at up to 800 million times per second.  The purpose of the collisions is to convert their kinetic energy (E) into new particles — this is allowed by relativity via E=mc^2.  (You can go to www.cern.ch and their visitor's site for lots of into on the machine.)  These new particles will tell us which of our theories of Nature is correct.

The many components in the experiment will be sealed up August 2007.  Our plan is to film different sections of the experiment, and the process of sealing the experiment up in Summer 2007.  We will also be at the experiment's lab, CERN, for a workshop on theoretical physics, which our cast of characters all plan to attend.  The camera will be embedded in the group for a long duration for the physicists to forget about the camera.  This will allow us to capture them in their most candid moments by themselves and in their interactions with each other.  We go back to CERN in April 2008 (assuming the current LHC schedule) or the engineering run (no new physics here) and continue to film there in multiple visits into the summer as the physics run begins in earnest.

We will do follow-up interviews with the theorists at their home institutions — Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, etc. — and see where they go as the time gets closer.  We will also interview their mentors — e.g., Steven Weinberg, Sheldon Glashow, and Gerard 't Hooft — to talk about this revolution in the broader context.  We will talk to a few younger physicists, who may or may not get permanent jobs depending on what the LHC sees.

As far as physics goes, the plan is to introduce only a small number of physics concepts and return to them a number of times throughout the film via graphics and analogies.  The main point of this documentary is to give the context in which drama lives, and to be able to follow the physicist's arguments to the extent of understanding who supports which theory.  This will allow the audience to bond with their favorite theory or theorist.

Particle Fever — directed by Matt Bennett.



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