Particle Fever (2013) Documentary Review

The Large Hadron Collider

Looking for something to watch on Netflix?  How about a documentary?  How would you like to have a front seat for the largest scientific experiment in history?  Do you ever wonder what the world is made of?  Well I’ve got the perfect documentary for you.  Particle Fever (2013) is a story of CERN, based in Geneva.  This documentary is spread over a five-year period and is about a 5.28 mile diameter super particle accelerator near Cern, Switzerland.  It’s known as the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), and it’s primary goal is to verify that the “god particle”, or Higgs boson, exists.  As the documentary puts it, the Higgs boson is the linchpin for all other particles.   The LHC is the highest-energy accelerator in the world.  Yes, it’s about Physics, but you don’t have to be a Physicist to enjoy it.

CEN in Switzerland

The idea that the world is made up of fundamental particles has a long history.  You don’t have to have an advanced degree in theoretical physics or in mathematics to enjoy this documentary.  This movie does a good job of teaching the viewer the basics in order to understand what is going on.  For example, one of the Physicists, Monica Dunford, a postdocs student, explains how the LHC works in a dumbed down way:

 You take two things and smash them together.  You get a lot of stuff that comes out of the collision and you try to understand that stuff.

Large Hadron Collider

She is talking about what is known as a colliding-beam experiment.  In these experiments, beams of particles moving in opposite directions are tightly focused onto one another so that head-on collisions can occur.  Physicists expect that the LHC will make it possible to produce particles that have never been seen before.

Particle accelerators use electric and magnetic fields to accelerate and guide beams of charged particles.  After flipping through a few pages in my college Physics textbook, I found that LHC is a high-energy machine, called the synchrotron, where particles move in a vacuum chamber in the form of a thin doughnut, called the accelerating ring.  The particle beam is bent to follow the ring by a series of electromagnets placed around the ring.  As the particles speed up, the magnetic field is increased so that the particles retrace the same trajectory over and over.  The LHC is built underground to provide protection from radiation.

And why are they doing this?  As David Kaplan, Theoretical Physicist, puts it, one answer is what they tell people, and the other is the truth.

 What they tell people:

 They are reproducing physics, conditions just after the big bang to see what the universe was like when it first started.

The Truth According to Kaplan:

 Trying to understand the basic laws of nature.  They study particles because just after the big bang all there was is particles.  They carry the information about how the universe started, and how it got to be the way it is, and it’s future.
 Without the Higgs life as we know it wouldn’t exist.  To prove that it’s true we must smash together particles at high enough energy to disturb the field to create the Higgs particle.  If Higgs exists, the LHC is the machine that will discover it.

Particles of the standard model
 This documentary also delves into the difference between theoretical and experimentalists physicists.  I loved David Kaplan view when he explained;

 Theoretical physicists construct the theories that try to explain everything they see in nature.  Experimental physicists build the big machines, run experiments, analyze the data, and try to discover things, like new particles.  Without the theorists, the experimentalists are in the dark.  But without the Experimentalists, the Theorists will never know the truth.

I found this documentary to be interesting and very informative.  You will learn why these experiments are so important.  This is the ultimate hunt for knowledge.  This documentary has everything you could ask for; suspense, drama,  and humor.  So will they find the Higgs boson?  You probably already know the answer if you have followed the news in the last few years, but even so, this documentary is still a fun watch.  And if you don’t know, then sit back and enjoy the ride.  If you are in the mood to learn something new and have even the slightest interest for the field of physics, than this documentary is right up your alley.

Source:  Sears & Zemansky’s University Physics, 13th edition (2012) Pearson Education, Inc.


From Wikipedia:

Directed by Mark Levinson
Produced by Mark Levinson
David Kaplan
Starring Savas Dimopoulos
Nima Arkani-Hamed
Fabiola Gianotti
Monica Dunford
Martin Aleksa
Mike Lamont
Narrated by David Kaplan
Music by Robert Miller
Cinematography Claudia Raschke-Robinson
Edited by Walter Murch
Anthos Media
Release dates
  • July 14, 2013 (Sheffield, UK)
  • March 5, 2014(United States)
Running time
99 minutes

Author: Claude