True/False Doc Shows Physicists Hot For Answers

Missouri Theater being used for True/False

Missouri Theater transformed for True/False

Each year, during the last week of February, Columbia, Missouri is home to its largest annual arts event, the True/False Film Festival. The festival boasts a plethora of documentary films and over 35 bands from around the world.

True/False technically starts on Thursday, but really kicks off for local students on Friday, which was marketed this year as TGI T/F (Thank Goodness it’s True/False Friday), which featured a free screening of Particle Fever, by director Mark Levinson, for students and festival volunteers. The film was a good choice for the student kickoff, particularly as it’s a film about people’s excitement and got students excited about the festival.

The film follows the excitement of the scientists involved with the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN (the name of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research based in Geneva, Switzerland) from the startup of the LHC through the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle (a.k.a. “The God Particle”). The film leaves after the discovery which yielded inconclusive results on which of two theories explain the existence of the universe.

At one point in the film, one of the theoretical physicists involved with the LHC is asked by an economist what the economic incentive for the roughly $10 billion project is. I won’t spoil the film by giving you his fantastic answer, but Pauline Gagnon, a quantum physicist, gives a greater explanation to the question than just finding the the origin of the universe, on her official blog on CERN’s site.  Gagnon explains that

the LHC could be opening the door to parallel worlds, extra dimensions or the discovery of as many new particles as the ones we already know. These are but some of the exciting questions we are trying to address.

Gagnon, and Levinson aren’t the only people trying to explain the LHC to the public, either. In fact, CERN has made numerous websites that cater to students trying to spark young peoples’ interests in science. CERNLand, a spanish language site encourages children and their parents to get involved in science through contests. They also encourage visitors to check out this “Taking A Closer Look at LHC” blog, which gives easy to digest explanations of what CERN does.

Part of the Large Hadron Collider

Part of the Large Hadron Collider

CERN’s next step is doubling the power of the LHC to conduct experiments that will hopefully determine which theories about how the universe is held together are supported by the Higgs Boson particle. To do this, the magnets, the main pieces of the LHC, needed to be strengthened. On their official organisational update blog, CERN announced in February that 1,000 of the 1,695 magnets have been upgraded so far.

After the film, theoretical physicist David Kaplan, whom the film followed, stuck around with director Mark Levinson to answer questions from students. The Q&A is a major part of the festival and someone who starred in or made a film is required to be present for the Q&A after each film.

Check out the website for Particle Fever and find out where the film will show next.