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Imagine being able to watch as Edison turned on the first light bulb, or as Franklin received his first jolt of electricity.
For the first time, a film gives audiences a front row seat to a significant and inspiring scientific breakthrough as it happens. Particle Fever follows six brilliant scientists during the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, marking the start-up of the biggest and most expensive experiment in the history of the planet, pushing the edge of human innovation.
As they seek to unravel the mysteries of the universe, 10,000 scientists from over 100 countries joined forces in pursuit of a single goal: to recreate conditions that existed just moments after the Big Bang and find the Higgs boson, potentially explaining the origin of all matter. But our heroes confront an even bigger challenge: have we reached our limit in understanding why we exist?
Directed by Mark Levinson, a physicist turned filmmaker, and masterfully edited by Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient), Particle Fever is a celebration of discovery, revealing the very human stories behind this epic machine.
Before embarking on his film career, Mark earned a doctoral degree in particle physics from the University of California at Berkeley. In the film world, he became a specialist in the post-production writing and recording of dialogue known as ADR. He has worked closely with such directors as Anthony Minghella, Francis Coppola, Tom Tykwer, Milos Forman and David Fincher. He is the writer/producer/director of the narrative feature film Prisoner of Time, which examined the lives of former Russian dissident artists after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and had an acclaimed premiere at the Moscow International Film Festival.
David Kaplan is a professor of theoretical particle physics at Johns Hopkins University and studies supersymmetry, dark matter, and properties of the Higgs boson. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in Seattle, David held research positions at the University of Chicago and Stanford’s Linear Accelerator Center. He has been awarded the Outstanding Junior Investigator prize from the Department of Energy and named an Alfred P. Sloan fellow. He has been a featured host and consultant on science programs for the History Channel and National Geographic.
Award winning cinematographer Claudia Raschke-Robinson has photographed independent feature films and documentaries for over 15 years. Her most notable feature documentaries are Mad Hot Ballroom (Best Documentary, Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2005), Peabody Award winning Black Magic (2009, ESPN), The Music In Me (HBO series 2008), Oscar-nominated My Architect (add’l DP), Oscar-nominated Small Wonder (add’l DP), and Oscar nominated Sister Rose’s Passion (add’l DP).
Universally acknowledged as a master in his field, he is revered for his work as a film editor and sound designer, a term that he coined. Murch has worked with, among others, director Francis Ford Coppola on such cinematic milestones as The Godfather I, II and III, and Apocalypse Now, for which he won his first Academy Award in 1979. He also worked on Anthony Minghella’s film The English Patient for which he won an unprecedented double Academy Award in 1996 for Best Film Editing and Best Sound. He has also been nominated for Oscars for The Conversation, Julia, The Godfather: Part III, Ghost, and Cold Mountain. Murch has written a beautiful book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye (2001).
Anthos Media LLC is a new company dedicated to the production and distribution of documentary films aimed at the family audience. Along withParticle Fever, the company has produced The New Public by Jyllian Gunther and two short documentaries – one about the oldest psychoanalytic institute in the United States and the other about first responders to the Haiti earthquake of 2009. The company is currently working on Letters from Baghdad about the English diplomat Gertrude Bell and Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People, about the man behind the prize.
The company’s principals are Dr. Carla Solomon and Andrea Miller. Dr. Solomon, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, is a longstanding advocate for social change through volunteerism and philanthropy. Andrea Miller is an independent producer whose credits include the feature Dark Matter (Sloan Prize, Sundance; best narrative feature, Asian Film Festival), “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” (Emmy), “Shining Time Station,” and the original “Indecision ‘92” (Comedy Central’s longstanding election coverage). She was formerly an executive at Sony Wonder and also at Turner Networks where she headed the start-up of Cartoon Network Japan.
Composer Robert Miller has written several works that have been performed by orchestras nationwide. He has been the Composer-In-Residence with the New York-based Jupiter Symphony from 1996 – 1999. The New York Pops performed his orchestrations to Leonard Bernstein’s famed West Side Story Variations at Carnegie Hall. In addition to his symphonic efforts, Miller is considered among the top echelon of composers working in television and commercials. Some of his recent films include a feature documentary, Why We Fight (Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2005), Red Doors (Best NY Narrative, Tribeca 2005), and the critically acclaimed The Caller (2008).
MK12 is a design and filmmaking collective with acclaim in both commercial and artistic arenas. Founded in 2000, MK12′s work constantly challenges the boundaries between narrative structure and experimental storytelling via juxtapositions of live action, graphic design, nostalgic influence and new technologies. MK12 has been sought after to direct numerous commercial & network-based projects and has been involved with several game promotions & cinematics, and has also created title sequences & in-film graphic FX for feature films such as Stranger than Fiction, The Kite Runner, Holy Wars and Quantum of Solace. Their self-produced short films have been featured in numerous international film festivals.
A Greek immigrant who now occupies an endowed chair at Stanford University, Savas has been on an odyssey for 30 years to find the true theory of nature. Many consider him the most likely to have a theory confirmed by the LHC, potentially winning the Nobel Prize. A mentor to many in the field, Savas has recently begun to feel the pangs of age, and worries if he’ll be an active participant in the next revolution.
An intense, outspoken young theorist, Nima’s father was also a physicist, who spoke openly against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard after the revolution in 1979. In fear for their lives, the family fled into Turkey on horseback. Nima now treats physics with the same life and death imperative. Snatched up by Harvard with a full professorship before he was 30, Nima moved in 2008 to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. With many of his ideas poised to be tested at the LHC, Nima hopes to make the impact his colleagues think he is capable of. He bet several years salary that the elusive Higgs boson would finally reveal itself at the LHC.
In 1982, Fabiola received a piano diploma at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi in Milan, Italy. In 1989, she received her Ph.D. in Particle Physics from the University of Milan. She has devoted the last 20 years to the development of the ATLAS detector, the largest detector at the LHC. She became the leader of the experiment just as the LHC began operation, supervising nearly 3,000 physicists and engineers around the world. Like her Italian ancestor, Columbus, Fabiola’s fervent dream for the LHC is to discover an entirely unexpected “new world.”
Awarded a prestigious Enrico Fermi Fellowship from the University of Chicago, Monica’s gung ho, adventurous spirit has led her not only to the frontiers of science, but to the boundaries of human endurance. Her “leisure” activities of marathoning, cycling, rowing and mountain climbing have provided useful conditioning for the 16-hour days she regularly spends working on the ATLAS detector. As a young American post-doc, she is excited to be at the center of the physics universe and anxious to make her mark during her stint in Geneva.
Arriving from Austria over 12 years ago, Martin now has a coveted permanent position at CERN. He was one of the original designers of one of the central components of the ATLAS detector, the Liquid Argon Calorimeter. Elected to the position of ATLAS Run Control Coordinator in 2011, Martin was handed overall responsibility for the collection of data from the ATLAS detector just as the LHC began to produce its first new results.
Trained as a physicist in England, Mike migrated to the engineering side of the actual collider machine in Geneva. As Beam Operation Leader, he feels a personal responsibility to “deliver beams” of protons to the experiments. His dry wit has been a welcome relief in the adrenalin-charged, high-pressure environment of the CERN Control Center.
Particles of the Standard Model
This chart shows all of the particles of the Standard Model – the current theory that describes all of particle physics.
A simulated collection of data plotted on a graph which could lead to discovery. If the collisions appear many times at the same energy, the plot grows until 5 sigma is reached, and a discovery is made.
Here are some common terms referenced in Particle Fever:
Sigma, in a statistical sense, is the deviation from some norm and can represent a probability. When a 5-Sigma excess is announced (like evidence for the Higgs), the chance that the Higgs is not there and the data is due to a random fluctuation is 1 in 3.5 million.
ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) is one of the seven particle detector experiments (ALICE, ATLAS, CMS, TOTEM, LHCb, LHCf and MoEDAL) at the LHC, and one of two (with CMS) looking for the highest energy particles, such as the Higgs Boson, Supersymmetric partners, and Dark Matter.
All particles can be divided into two classes based on an internal property called spin. Matter particles, like electrons or quarks, are fermions. Force carrying particles are bosons.
The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment is an LHC detector that lies on its French side and (like ATLAS) its goal is to investigate a wide range of physics, including the Higgs boson, extra dimensions, and particles that could make up dark matter.
A parameter in Einstein’s theory of relativity which, when added, amounts to “vacuum energy”, or energy stored in space itself. It can cause the universe to expand at an accelerated rate — something which appears to be occurring today. The size of the cosmological constant is one of the biggest mysteries in theoretical physics.
In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is a type of matter hypothesized to account for a large part of the total mass in the universe. Evidence strongly suggests it isn’t ordinary matter – i.e., it is not made of atoms. A great hope for the LHC is that it will discover a new particle that could explain dark matter.
A hadron is a composite particle made of quarks held together by the strong force (in a similar way as atoms and molecules are held together by the electromagnetic force). Protons and neutrons are hadrons.
The Higgs boson or Higgs particle is an elementary particle initially theorized in 1964, and confirmed to exist on 14 March 2013. Its discovery completes the Standard Model, represents the first elementary particle seen without spin, and confirms the existence of the Higgs field.
The Higgs field fills all of space and, according to the Standard Model theory, was ‘switched on’ moments after the Big Bang, which caused most elementary particles (quarks, the electron, weak force carriers) to acquire mass. The electron mass allows atoms to form and thus the Higgs field is responsible for all normal matter as we know it.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. It first started up on 10 September 2008, and is the largest ring (27 km) in CERN’s accelerator complex. It consists of superconducting magnets to guide the particles and accelerating structures to boost the energy of the particles along the way. The machine is being upgraded currently and will operate at even higher energies in early 2015.
The multiverse is a theoretical description of spacetime in which our known universe is a small part of something much more vast in which the laws of nature might vary from place to place. The multiverse, while potentially a natural consequence of string theory and cosmic inflation, is not yet well-defined and by some is considered controversial.
Particles are, by definition, the smallest physical objects. Elementary particles are point-like, but can carry energy, mass, electric charge and other information or attributes. Study of fundamental particles is a key part of the study of the laws of nature.
Protons are positively charged subatomic particles that, along with neutrons, make up the nucleus of an atom. Protons are the particles that are accelerated and collided at the LHC.
The Standard Model is the current theory of elementary particles. It is literally a list of particles and their interactions which abide by the laws of quantum mechanics and relativity and describe nearly all known physical phenomena in our Universe at the microscopic level.
Supersymmetry is a special type of symmetry in physics which implies that there is a correspondence, at a fundamental level, between fermions and bosons (roughly particles which make up matter and particles responsible for forces). If supersymmetry were true, each Standard Model particle would have a corresponding ‘superpartner’, potentially discoverable at the LHC.
If you’d like to learn more about particle physics, the below references are a great place to start:
CERN: The place where it all happens. Visit Now.
ATLAS Experiment – Official Website
CERN Public Open Days: Tour the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. Visit Now
Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory explains particle physics in Particle Adventure. Visit Now
The LHC has inspired all sorts of entertaining coverage in the media. Please explore some of our favorite, and “creative” sources.
The physicists featured in Particle Fever have impressive backgrounds in the science community. Here are some links to various public lectures from Nima Arkani-Hamed.
A Selection of Messenger Lectures at Cornell University, 10/4-8/2012: