The movie trails milestones in the launching of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, shows some nerve-wrecking moments, and celebrates the triumph at the end. Along the story of the largest machine ever built by humankind, the film also brings personal stories of theorists (all of them men) and of experimentalists working at CERN (I was surprised to see and hear some women).
Critics generally loved the documentary. Out of about 500 hours of footage came 99 minutes of a fast-moving movie (as described on PBS), with awe-inspiring shoots inside the gigantic machine and without dwelling on technical aspects or being pedagogical about theoretical problems. When the camera does a close up on Peter Higgs, as he watches the announcement that confirms the discovery of a Higgs-like particle, one cannot remain untouched.
I enjoyed watching this movie, and I want to recommend it. The question is to whom?
Physicists, their significant others, their parents, children, best friends, the readers of quantum diaries, and… (you get the gist) have already heard about the movie. Others might remember hearing about the discovery of the Higgs boson or “the God’s particle” in the news, but that was over two years ago.
So, what shall I say to entice prospective watchers?
The quest after the Higgs boson could be seen as a modern take on the King Arthur’s knights questing after the Holy Grail. The modern quest is uplifting, for those interested in what the quest aimed to accomplish. Otherwise, it’s a story without an adversary, a movie without conflict, a documentary about physicists wasting billions of dollars to check outlandish theories. Since so much has been said and written about the discovery of the Higgs boson, there is little point in adding my two cents. Instead, let me cite from the Nobel prize in Physics 2013 award:
François Englert and Peter W. Higgs are jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 for the theory of how particles acquire mass. In 1964, they proposed the theory independently of each other (Englert together with his now deceased colleague Robert Brout). In 2012, their ideas were confirmed by the discovery of a so called Higgs particle at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva in Switzerland.
The awarded mechanism is a central part of the Standard Model of particle physics that describes how the world is constructed. According to the Standard Model, everything, from flowers and people to stars and planets, consists of just a few building blocks: matter particles. These particles are governed by forces mediated by force particles that make sure everything works as it should.
The entire Standard Model also rests on the existence of a special kind of particle: the Higgs particle. It is connected to an invisible field that fills up all space. Even when our universe seems empty, this field is there. Had it not been there, electrons and quarks would be mass-less just like photons, the light particles. And like photons they would, just as Einstein’s theory predicts, rush through space at the speed of light, without any possibility to get caught in atoms or molecules. Nothing of what we know, not even we, would exist.
PS The movie trailer has been watched on YouTube about half a million times (as of Aug.24, 2014).