"Particle Fever": The Search for the Higgs Boson

Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins University
Physicist-turned-filmmaker David Kaplan talks about his film "Particle Fever" and the search for the Higgs Boson.
  • Transcript


Many years ago, many, five, six, seven, eight years ago it was obvious to me and it was really obvious to my entire field, particle physics, that the Large Hadron Collider was finally the experiment that could go to the energy level where we would answer questions that we've been basically asking our entire careers.  We were in a state of affairs where the entire population of particle physicists were still active in the field, had never seen a discovery at this level and we knew it was coming.  You could do the calculation and decide immediately that somebody should make a documentary film.  And the thing that is coming or was coming was really a statement about how much information about the universe can we get?  Does all the information we want, all the things we want to discover about how things work, are they accessible?  Is that information, in a sort of goofy way of putting it, in our universe?

Some of the crazier sounding ideas that have been coming out in the last ten years is the idea of a multiverse.  The fact that the laws of physics themselves are not fundamental as we measure them, they're a reflection of one possible way the physical reality could be.  And the multiverse is a much more physical example of how you could imagine different possibilities of nature itself could be manifest.  Here, where we measure things in our entire observable universe, and then what's outside of it.  And while that all sounds very dramatic and exciting, it is both something that scientists can think about in great detail and try to figure out, and sociologically it's a little bit of a nightmare scenario; are we going to come to the point in this direction where the numbers we measure and the equations that sort of describe as much of physics as possible were really generated randomly?  That they actually came out of a whole bath of the possible laws of physics, and the ones we measure are the ones that generate structure in our universe and therefore life and therefore human beings.

And so we are biased by what we measure by the fact that we're here and we're measuring it.  That the universe, or part of the universe we're in has enough structure and complexity to produce humans or any sort of observer whatsoever, or at the very least planets or galaxies or stars.  So that was the sort of drama, the deep drama that was actually going on in the mid 2000s when I decided that somebody needed to record this event.  And what I knew [was that] whatever the LHC saw or didn't see, it would inform us along those lines.  Emotionally it was going to be very dramatic no matter what.  We didn't know we would discover the Higgs, that that would be the thing that people sort of hung on to.  We the community knew, that this was so big and this was generational that it's going to affect everybody.