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Catching Particle Fever

Documentary gives physics fans a look inside the Large Hadron Collider

2:22pm, February 22, 2014

IN DEEP  Interspersed with the plot of Particle Fever are artful explanatory animations and commentary highlighting that the Higgs boson is a stepping stone toward a deeper understanding of the universe.

There’s a brilliant dreamlike sequence about halfway through the documentary Particle Fever, when theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed enters his building at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J., looking troubled. Cartoon equations and figures swirl around his head. As he walks upstairs to his office and starts to work, the building’s windows fall away. Shortly thereafter, the whole world disintegrates into a mess of alternate universes, almost none of which could support life. Could our existence be an accident, the film asks, and our attempts to understand nature a folly?

“This is the sort of thing that really keeps you up at night,” Arkani-Hamed says. In the film, much of his life’s work is riding on measurements emerging from the Large Hadron Collider, a giant ring-shaped particle accelerator under the Franco-Swiss border. The stakes are high too for David Kaplan, the Johns Hopkins physicist who conceived the film.

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