Review: Independent Lens "Atom Smashers"

Program: Independent Lens “Atom Smashers”
Date: Tuesday, Nov. 25
Time: 9:30 p.m.

Just the name alone made me want to see how and why scientists are smashing atoms. As far as I knew smashing atoms only resulted in big explosions that ended a world war. I was quickly put in my place as the scientists from the Illinois based Fermilab explained how destructing atoms can help identify questions like how and why matter even exists. That’s a pretty big question so I was hooked.

Do you remember a few months ago, reading “news” stories about how the Swiss were going to blow up the world with their own “atom smasher” or Large Hadron Collider? As far as I can tell, the world didn’t end when they flipped the switch on earlier this year and the LHC seems well on it’s way to making some amazing discoveries as a result of creating such a huge project.

The story of Atom Smashers quickly turns into a race against the clock for scientists at Fermilab, trying to find the mother of all particle discoveries, the Higgs Boson which would help explain why matter has mass. What keeps us all from drifting into space? And perhaps how was the first matter created to begin with? Big questions it seemed like to me and with the help of simple animation, I felt like I understood enough to be interested.

The questions move to topics of public understanding of these types of projects and the politics of allocating funds for this type of research over others. It also deals with the US having to swallow its pride and realize that we may not be the country that makes this huge scientific breakthrough. We may have made it to the moon first, but it’s a whole new race when looking for the Higgs Boson. In the competitive/cooperative nature of international research, should we be so concerned with being the country that makes this discovery? Should we just be happy that the discovery is made? Is this leading to the trend of US graduates moving abroad to do research? The outlook may be grim but the episode is enlightening. Tune in and report back with your findings.

Additionally, the film has its own blog.

- Scott Randall

About the reviewer: Scott Randall is the Marketing Editor for KLRU. When he’s not working to put food on the table in this recession, he enjoys spending money frivolously on holiday gifts because that’s what this season is all about right?