CERN Particle Fever HD Documentary
Particle Fever is a 2013 documentary film tracking the first round of experiments at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland. The film follows the experimental physicists at CERN who run the experiments, as well as the theoretical physicists who attempt to provide a conceptual framework for the LHC’s results. The film begins in 2008 with the first firing of the LHC and concludes in 2012 with the successful identification of the Higgs boson.
The Communication Awards of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine awarded a $20,000 prize for excellence in communicating science to the general public in Film/Radio/TV to David Kaplan and Mark Levinson for “Particle Fever” on October 14, 2015. The awards are given to individuals in four categories: books, film/radio/TV, magazine/newspaper and online, and are supported by the W. M. Keck Foundation.
The film was shot over a period of seven years. It was directed by Mark Levinson, a former theoretical physicist with a doctorate from UC-Berkeley. Levinson produced the film along with David Kaplan, a professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University and producers Andrea Miller, Carla Solomon and Wendy Sax. The team gathered nearly 500 hours of footage from both professional camera crews and amateur video self-recordings shot by the physicists themselves. This footage was then edited by Walter Murch, who had previously won Academy Awards for his work on Apocalypse Now and The English Patient.
The film premiered at Sheffield Doc/Fest on July 14, 2013.
The film is composed of two narrative threads. One follows the large team of experimental physicists at CERN as they try to get the LHC running properly. After a promising initial test run, the LHC suffers a liquid helium leak in 2008 that damages its electromagnets. Fabiola Gianotti, Martin Aleksa, and Monica Dunford are all shown discussing how to handle the negative publicity surrounding the accident, and how to proceed. After repairs in 2009, the LHC begins to run experiments again at half power.
The other thread follows the competing theories of Nima Arkani-Hamed and his mentor Savas Dimopoulos. In the film, Arkani-Hamed advocates for the “multiverse” theory, which predicts the mass of the Higgs boson to be approximately 140 giga-electronvolts. Dimopoulos argues for the more-established supersymmetry theory, which predicts the mass of the Higgs boson to be approximately 115 GeV.
The narrative threads combine at the end of the film, when CERN announces the confirmed existence of a Higgs-like particle, with a mass of approximately 125 GeV. The discovery of the particle is met with a standing ovation, and Peter Higgs is shown wiping away tears. However, neither of the competing theories of the universe is definitively supported by the finding.
Later, Kaplan is shown admitting that none of his theoretical models are supported by this finding, and that the long-term implications of the discovery are unclear.