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The Atom Smashers November 24, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Fermilab, science, USA.

The Atom Smashers (http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/atomsmashers/) will show on PBS on Tuesday night. It looks like it focuses on Fermilab and the particle physics research occurring there. I like their tag line:

After funding cut backs, Fermilab—a premier U.S. government research laboratory focusing on particle physics—is struggling to survive. Physics, politics and international competition collide as scientists race to find one of the most elusive sub-atomic particles ever theorized: the Higgs boson.

Elsewhere on the site the film makers claim they don’t try to answer questions – but rather to get you to "think":

We hope this film will raise the awareness of America’s strange relationship with science. We don’t attempt to answer questions in our film, but rather to raise them. Is this research worth doing? Should we care about it? Should the U.S. participate in it or let it get done elsewhere? Also, we hope to help demystify science and scientists. We’d love it if a viewer came away thinking, “You know, those scientists are not really that different from me."

That last line being one of the main points of this blog!! Leave a comment if you get a chance to see it – I’d like to know what you think!

This show is part of PBS’ Independent Lens project. I have no idea if it will be available online. I hope so as I don’t have a TV receiver (their videos online are all very short, so I might be out of luck)!

P.S. Sorry about the links (and lack of them) – the computer I’m on doesn’t have my normal blogging software and so is a pain-in-the-butt to use.



1. Andrew Suprenant - November 26, 2008

Hi –

Thanks for your writeup! The program will be on iTunes within the next few months. In the meantime, DVDs are now shipping and can be ordered here:


Best regards,
Andrew Suprenant
Producer, The Atom Smashers

2. Manny - December 2, 2008

Have not seen the movie yet…but I am perplexed why there is a “race” on the experimental side yet everyone wants to just just give credit to the Europeans (BEH) on the theory side. The GHK team has equal if not more claim to this discovery but there is little push for credit in that “race”.

3. gordonwatts - December 2, 2008

Many Americans, Manny, aren’t really fully aware of the history!

4. Manny - December 2, 2008

Agreed (good point as always) – and maybe they don’t care but I think that “race” is much more interesting as it involves a concerted effort by the Europeans to not recognize the GHK team (even though hey were the first to present mass boson results) in order to make the Nobel math work. Much more interesting and juicy than Fermi vs. LHC.

5. Manny - December 2, 2008

With Nambu wining this year many feel that opens up a BEH Nobel for the mass boson – snubbing GHK. That will make the Cabibbo snub this year seem minor.

6. gordonwatts - December 3, 2008

Really weid. The first time I loaded this page it had none of the comments on them!

Also, I’d disagree with you about the Fermilab vs LHC race being less juicy. That is the race for the scientific results. As soon as the Higgs is seen then everyone’s eyes will turn to Nobel second guessing. At that point there will be a vast shiver through the particle physics section of the blog-o-sphere as everyone hauls out this story and tries to get all their stories straight. But till then, the real race is to find the damm thing first. 🙂

The Nobel committee is, as usual, screwed no matter what it decides to do. Hopefully they are well compensated! 🙂

7. Manny - December 3, 2008

The race to find it between LHC and Fermi is open and in the news – and will be validated by results.

The theory side is driven by the crafting of the story to let the Nobel math work – including the revision of the sotry and history of the mass boson.

So it depends on your definition of “juicy” I guess. Have a great day.


8. Lisa Smith - December 4, 2008

Just yesterday I was talking with Tianchi and I mentioned the “competition” between Fermilab and the LHC, and he almost instantly responded that there was no such competition. In terms of the Atom Smashers, I disappointingly did not get home from band practice early enough to see the whole thing, and then the next showing was at 4am Friday morning — not quite doable. So I never got to see the whole program, but I remember getting the impression from snippets and writeups that at least some of the people involved believe there is a viable competition, so I’m not sure why the difference in perspectives…

I was going to add that you can also get the DVD through PBS here:


9. Gordon Watts - December 4, 2008

Interesting — there certianly is competition. Perhaps it is funny competition. Most of the people at Fermilab are also on the LHC experiements – so in some sense they are compeating with themselves (i.e. lots of conflicts of interest)… At any rate, there is definately a sense of a race. We’ll see…

An earlier comment also pointed out it would be availible on iTunes at some point too.

10. Manny - December 10, 2008

Letter from GHK on CERN Courier this week is interesting and related to this.


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