By Pete Dickinson, Head of Comms at the Science Museum.
What better way to round off events linked to our Collider exhibition about the world’s greatest experiment than with a special screening of Particle Fever, a documentary exploring the same extraordinary story of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN?
Critics, such as the New York Times, have given the film rave reviews and there was a palpable buzz when Director Mark Levinson, was joined in the museum’s IMAX theatre by one of the stars of the film, experimental physicist Monica Dunford, for a revealing pre-screening conversation with broadcaster Alok Jha.
Dunford, who was a relative newcomer to CERN in Geneva when Levinson began filming for Particle Fever in 2007, is one of six scientists and engineers Levinson chose to follow out of more than 10,000 scientists from over 100 nations at CERN. She told the audience that her motivation for getting involved in the film was partly to change attitudes about scientists. As she put it, “my goal is to tell people what I do and them say awesome and not recoil in horror.”
With a beguiling mix of wit, levity and scientific gravitas, the film follows events at CERN as the LHC began circulating proton beams in 2008, the setbacks that followed, notably a ‘quench’ and explosive release of one ton of helium, and the jubilation – along with the tears of theoretician Peter Higgs – as history is made with the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, half a century after Higgs had glimpsed its existence with the help of mathematics.
Levinson, who worked on the movie with physicist/producer David Kaplan and editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient), was granted huge access and trust by the team at CERN, something he puts down to his own past as a particle physicist before he moved into film making.
He and Monica took the time to see our Collider exhibition to compare how our own creative team responded to the world’s greatest experiment: “It was fascinating and impressive to see the authenticity achieved in the Collider exhibition. Monica and I laughed that the detail even extended to the “telephone stations” and “physics cartoons” that are on bulletin boards all over CERN – and included an iconic photo from First Beam Day featuring Monica with a raised fist of celebration!”
The screening rounded off a series of events, staged in partnership with the Guardian, our media partner for Collider, which began with an extraordinary launch day with Professor Peter Higgs answering questions from a group of students from across the UK in our IMAX theatre. He was followed by novelist Ian McEwan and theoretical physicist, and Particle Fever star, Nima Arkani-Hamed sharing their thoughts on similarities and differences between the cultures of science and culture. The final IMAX event was a lecture by Stephen Hawking, who talked about the impact of the discovery of the Higgs and his life-long love of the Science Museum.
The grand finale of that day was a party launched by the Philharmonia Orchestra and attended by the speakers, along with Chancellor, George Osborne, the Director General of CERN, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, and director of the Science Museum Group, Ian Blatchford.