Particle Fever: Catch It!

A brief search of the archives reveals that I truly have not done my job in plugging Particle Fever, the new documentary about particle physics and the Large Hadron Collider. I guess it would have been a bit premature, as the movie hasn’t technically been released yet. But here it comes! And the trailer captures a bit of the excitement:

Particle Fever is the brainchild of David Kaplan, a young (younger than me, anyway) particle theorist at Johns Hopkins who was crazy enough to think he could make a feature film in his spare time. (Actually David told me that his first idea was to write a book, but the act of writing was just too painful, so obviously he decided to take an easier route.) Readers of The Particle at the End of the Universe will be familiar with David’s story, which I told as part of exploring how physics proceeds in our ever-more-complicated media landscape.

Some people will doubtless feel that a movie about particle physics is self-indulgent and unnecessary. The polite term for such people is “poopyheads.” (You can imagine some of the impolite terms.) The experimentalists and technicians who built the LHC, and the theorists who built the theories that the machine tests, are human beings who have devoted their lives to a rather esoteric pursuit — but one that is truly universal, uncovering the basic rules of the cosmos in which we all live. This is an important story to tell.

Long a labor of love on the part of David and his intrepid crew of filmmakers, Particle Fever was picked up for distribution the same day the Nobel Prize was announced for Englert and Higgs, and will be officially released on March 5. Early reviews have been glowing. Depending on where you live, you might be able to catch a theatrical release, but before too long I’m sure you will be able to see the film using one of those gizmos that beams media content straight to your living room. What a world we live in.

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11 Responses to Particle Fever: Catch It!

  1. Thank you for sharing. We need longer movies. Like Gravity, perhaps, 3-D commercial movies.

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  2. Richard D. says:

    Definitely worth a watch, I am kinda sick of seeing the same documentaries all the time on TV, it is always about black holes or killer asteroids…

    @Manmohan Dash
    I really do not think we need movies like Gravity. While visually stunning it is also very inaccurate and unrealistic. I don’t think it helps to awaken interest in science, it trivializes space and science. And to think that at the end they want to give an Oscar to Mrs. Bullock for her “performance” is just ridiculous. Potatoes boiling in the kitchen pot show more emotions…

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  3. Tobbe A says:

    Can’t wait to see it!

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  4. rocken1844 says:

    Doesn’t this take you back to those Friday Evening Discourses of Michael Faraday at the Royal Institute? Biographer James Hamilton said those were “perhaps the most influential, certainly the most enduring education series until the founding of the BBC almost a century later in 1922, and turned education into enjoyment…the particular joy for Faraday about science was that he always found it truly exciting both in theory and in practice.” Especially in our day it is vital for scientists to demonstrate their enthusiasm for their work in public, so the public may find the motivation to not only understand the processes which benefit their lives, but to learn to identify so much pseudoscience that is masquerading about–this is Faraday’s legacy.

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  5. Avattoir says:

    “Potatoes boiling in the kitchen pot show more emotions” — except they have more trouble memorizing lines.

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  6. @Richard I would totally like to believe, your take on this movie gravity is more educating. I haven’t read any online review. But I have couple points,

    1. We don’t make much good science movies, that inspires to look beyond, Gravity is one among these, it brings space sojourns much more vividly than most. What I am saying there is not many science movies out there (that perhaps I have seen) Apollo is very good one I have seen. Also the first 3-D I saw on rocket launching to space, is from 2002, in Smithsonian Museum, D.C. That was also quite so inspiring.

    2. The inaccuracy you are speaking of, I must confess I would not be taken off my feet with some gross errors, in the movie, since I may not have listened everything as keenly, taken up by the intensity of visuals. But I remember one fact, that concerns, Physics, the roughly 50000 miles an hour (correct?) speed of ISS level debris that was coming, it set me thinking, are they violating the Relativistic Laws? For a while, and then I realize its per hour, not second, (that later would be grossly incorrect, 50 K miles / sec would violate Relativity certainly) that comes out to be 20 km/sec and thats perfectly enough close to what sort of speed, earth, moon, any satellite are typically found with, in our Sun’s Gravity. (in free fall) Even Rocket’s launching requires escape vel. 11.2 km/sec. So they have clearly done their research on the Physics, as far as I could get in that moment. (I had to rush for a 20 hrs bus trip, right after this, so I was also kind of trip-worried)

    Give me please one example of inaccuracy, (its possible they have done, but I have missed, or unaware).

    Gravity is Certainly better than most movies out there (eg sci-fi and gadget crap trying to tell us science in modern age is totally my anti-favorite, I tend to believe, they mislead the concurrent younger generation about what science really is) and in particle physics there aren’t many (or even one movie I know of that has been made) .

    Of-course if there are inaccuracies (which is quite so possible) we must find and elucidate. Thanks though (I came across couple students of mine, young people, they didn’t like Gravity, but internet age, we generate more vicious vibes about something if it does not satisfy our monetary interest).

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  7. Richard D. says:


    Here are just a few examples:

    Houston telling the Astronauts that a shot down satellite in Low Earth Orbit will cut off communications. Communication satellites are in a geostationary orbit at altitudes around 34-36 thousand kilometers.

    Sandra Bullock returns from a spacewalk and is immediately ready for action after taking her spacesuit off, while in reality you would need several hours for various reasons.

    Sandra Bullock SWIMMING out the capsule after reentry. Show me one astronaut who can stand on his legs without help after being in space for a longer period of time.

    The Hubble Space Telescope and the ISS are in very different orbits. NO chance getting from one to the other. Not even with whatever George Clooney was buzzing around, clearly some futuristic jetpack thing which isn’t realistic in the slightest, not only the device itself but the way he moves.

    George and Sandra slamming into the ISS after he rescued her. Broken bones IF NOT DEATH certain, and this wasn’t the only scene where someone crushes at high speeds into something.

    We’ve all seen Chris Hadfield crying in space, and it doesn’t look anything like in the movie.

    Apparently they encounter the debris every 90 minutes which would give the impression that the ISS takes 90 minutes to make one trip around the earth which is wrong. The debris they encounter is in fact stationary, it is the ISS that is flying into the orbit of the debris so they would have to account for the speed of the ISS.

    Out in space without a visor to protect your eyes from sunlight? Immediate death sentence for your eyes.

    Those are the things I noticed, but I guess there are plenty of smarter than me people who will probably point out more things that are just wrong.

    That being said, I still enjoyed the movie, I just do not think it is very educational.
    I guess that is what happens if you have some interest in science, it PARTIALLY ruins movies for you because you pick up on things that won’t let you fully immerse in the movie.

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  8. @Richard. Let me make sense of your comments, as it occurred to me.

    1. I like to point out many comments made by you, that are technically misleading or incorrect. After I mention the following point, 2.

    2. The context in which we can look at such movies (specifically gravity):

    A. its a science-movie which is B. (i) reasonably fair movie vs (ii) the best movie vs (iii) totally trash movie.

    My point was B(i) while you seem to be up with B(iii).

    Also for A. a hero in a movie gets up from bullet injuries and vanquishes the opponents and goes on totally unrealistic stunts. The science based “movie” and “documentary” are two different things. Movie: entertaining. Science: educating. I enjoyed that aspect, a movie is not only education, but also an entertainment and there is a very good trade-off b/w these two.

    To say in a movie an astronaut can’t get up as soon as she falls off on earth, is also to say she can’t survive the shell catching fire on reentry, but she did. Sounds to me that miraculously she escapes, and thats the theme of the movie, apart from showing visuals of what sort of situations await on the space based actions. Also she did not suffer major injuries so she could get up pretty soon. Plus she descended by parachute and fell off in water. There was just no major explicit injury although only luck was favorable.

    Not everything in science is totally realistic, either. Recently Hawking is calling Black-holes as grey holes and abandoning the idea of event horizon, which have been cornerstones of cosmology for 4 decades. So science is a refinement and if there are not totally invalid facts, the movie is fine.

    Now let me clarify the remark 1.

    Example of technically misleading comments;

    ISS is based on a short altitude orbit. ~400 kms above earth. Geostationary above 22000 kms, hence your point: 30000 kms is correct about Geostationary, but what about ISS which is quite short altitude?

    ISS is 425 kms orbit vs Hubble Space Telescope 560 kms, a mere 125 kms difference. You have to substantiate why there is no chance of getting from one to the other given 100 kms in space in free-fall is quite nothing given we are falling at 15-20 km/second or similar speed. That takes merely 10 seconds.

    Slamming onto something in free fall. Barely much impact. Possible and highly probable. (considering two objects with similar speed won’t impact each other much, in all possible kind of collisions, but below: thats not true for debris because there is massive speed difference between debris and space-ship and astronaut.)

    Encountering debris. No its not one full circle around earth. Its just debris, comes from any direction at any time. That was quite clear in the movie. Plus: such debris was said to be 50000 miles an hour which is, I calculated after the movie, 22 kms/sec, given the space ship may be at 10 or 12 km/sec in the orbit, this would mean still a surplus 10 km/sec object hitting the space ship or astronaut. Thats too dangerous. Clearly the movie folks have researched a lot of technicalities.

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  9. Pingback: Review of Gravity, the movie, discussions. « Invariance Publishing House

  10. Richard D. says:

    QUOTE: “ISS is 425 kms orbit vs Hubble Space Telescope 560 kms, a mere 125 kms difference. You have to substantiate why there is no chance of getting from one to the other given 100 kms in space in free-fall is quite nothing given we are falling at 15-20 km/second or similar speed. That takes merely 10 seconds.”
    Although it only takes basic Newtonian physics to calculate the launch and trajectory of something from one place to another in space, I would love to see you launch yourself form an object traveling at 5 miles per second to an object which is also traveling at about 5 miles per second an roughly the size of a large car from a distance of 1 kilometer, not to mention the actual distance which you pointed out. I am no mathematician but the chance of hitting the lottery is probably much bigger, that is just common sense and I don’t think i need to elaborate on that.
    QUOTE:”Slamming onto something in free fall. Barely much impact. Possible and highly probable. ”
    I just can’t agree with you on this one. Even when traveling parallel to something, the impact is still perpendicular. From what I have noticed the distances they covered before hitting something in this fashion were partially huge and you can easily compare it to falling from a tall tree with no protection.
    QUOTE:”Encountering debris. No its not one full circle around earth. Its just debris, comes from any direction at any time. That was quite clear in the movie. Plus: such debris was said to be 50000 miles an hour which is, I calculated after the movie, 22 kms/sec, given the space ship may be at 10 or 12 km/sec in the orbit, this would mean still a surplus 10 km/sec object hitting the space ship or astronaut. Thats too dangerous. Clearly the movie folks have researched a lot of technicalities.”
    Since we are getting technical here, apparently a satellite is blown up and the debris is accelerated to 55000mph . Compared to 17000mph miles of the ISS this instinctively seems exaggerated. Also how can an explosion set something on a perfect orbit around the earth. This is just wrong and the only plausible solution would be that the ISS is in fact flying INTO the debris and not the other way around.
    I don’t care what they say in the movie, this just doesn’t feel right.
    And NO, I don’t think this is a total trash movie, like I already said, I still enjoyed the movie. And they did they research and got many things right. But still they got plenty of things wrong. That is all I am saying. And yes I don’t think Bullock deserves an Oscar. Just give it finally to Di Caprio ;)

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  11. Okay you are totally missing so many physics and maths points here, I wish I could explain back and forth here on comment section. But web has tons of educative criticism on gravity movie and they all point out a few or other faults but they all agree that the physics is almost there, only “dramatic license” is whats to be offered, thats to say they could have certainly improved their chances by doing this or that.

    Regarding physics, of the first point, a jet-pack which is a real space-sojourn device, although not used in latter days, was used. What it does is it points you in other directions. Your original space-craft orbit speed is there by conservation of momentum, so you are drifting in the trajectory, but depending on how much jet-pack speed you can have it takes how long it takes to drift a perpendicular 100 kms. If not 10 seconds. Also an intersection with the HST orbit in the coincidence of things is neither excepted from Gravity the movie, nor gravity the reality.

    Traveling parallel, impact is not perpendicular, thats just basic physics. Very elementary. zero perpendicular force. But only difference of speed and an angular collision less than 90 degree matters, because then even a nail at miles /sec, makes you dead, makes the space-craft burst off. Thats NASA simulation, and very real. check on google. In-fact this is called Kessler Effect or some such thing. (check this guy, he is actually doing these space research and has given marvelous explanation of many things about gravity the movie, pointing out what their real inaccuracies are The space debris is real, although this guy points out such bombardment is needed for years to grow in flux than just few minutes. But then its a movie “License to drama”

    Reg. debris speed, yes, it can be exaggerated, its a dramatization. Almost all experts out there on the web have explained this. (read my linked article, I have given there 2 folks who talked about such, Apollo 13 author and an actual astronaut, while the criticized some inaccuracies) Its exaggerated from perhaps 22000 miles/hr to 55k miles/hr. 2nd thing, I don’t think they have to form an orbit, because they might have created from a powerful explosion with a rocket. But they are drifting with original orbit speed. Its a bit messy I agree. But I don’t think they form an exact orbit, rather a chain or flux that comes from various directions, if in fact that intense. (currently as explained by the link above, years of flux produces large enough debris as shown in movie, for movie its a few minutes of bursting through debris)

    Also according to physics it does not matter, you are going into debris or its coming on to you. Its not at rest, the debris. Its drifting at higher speed (and in a intersecting direction) than the Gravity space craft. The space craft better not come in that mess.

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