Particle Fever takes a notoriously inaccessible topic – particle physics and the search for the Higgs boson – and makes it as accessible as possible. Explanations of the Large Hadron Collider, the conflict between models like super-symmetry and the multiverse model and the statistical significance necessary to identify said boson are conveyed with direct explanations from the scientists concerned, often paired with engaging animation. The story told here – of the discovery of the Higgs boson and its ramifications – should be understandable to most audiences.
It stands to reason, then, that as a secondary Physics teacher with a special interest in particle physics, I’m not exactly the target audience for this documentary. Accessibility is not a bad thing at all – in fact, as a teacher, it’s paramount – but often the approach of director Mark Levinson works against the material. The explanations involve, by necessity, simplifications, and that simplified approach is extended to an entirely conventional film that pushes towards emotions (with misjudged moments like an “Ode to Joy” needle drop) rather than an observational approach that simply allows you to experience these scientists’ joy with them. I would’ve preferred a deeper, quieter approach, à la Frederick Wiseman, but it’s an interesting film regardless.
2 thoughts on “Particle Fever (2013)”
Yeah this was a really tricky project to mount I’d imagine. I appreciate your perspective on this and how its simplification of heady concepts borders on oversimplification. Still, I think for me, the subject of the Higgs-Boson and the fact that we are on this kind of level of understanding a bigger place than our world is exciting in the extreme. I love these kinds of stories man, really do.
I’m kinda okay with the oversimplification; it’s the over-scaffolding, the need to reinforce the emotion rather than just observing it, that bothered me. It’s definitely a very exciting story!