UA physicists aren’t characters in the documentary “Particle Fever,” but they’ve been heavily involved in the massive science experiment it depicts — the Large Hadron Collider — and will offer a local perspective on it Friday.
The Loft Cinema will kick off its weeklong run of “Particle Fever” Friday at 7 p.m. with a “Science of Cinema” event featuring discussion by Elliott Cheu, John Rutherfoord and Michael Shupe.
The men are part of a University of Arizona team that built parts for one of the LHC’s detectors called the ATLAS Experiment.
The LHC, a particle accelerator housed in a 17-mile circular tunnel on the border of Switzerland and France, is rightly referred to as the world’s largest science experiment.
The experiment sends highly energized particles flying around the tunnel in opposite directions and crashes them together at close to the speed of light. The goal is to provide a better understanding of matter.
“We’re trying to actually understand the very, very smallest of particles that make up everything,” said Cheu, associate dean of the UA College of Science.
“You can actually break down everything you know around you into a small handful of particles,” Cheu said.
By understanding that handful of particles and how they interact, scientists can essentially describe the whole universe, he said.
“We’re basically creating these fundamental particles,” he said.
Some of the particles being created haven’t been seen since the very beginning of time, during the moments directly after the Big Bang, Cheu said.
One of these particles — the Higgs boson — was the primary target of the experimental quest.
Rutherfoord, one of the UA professors on the discussion panel, said, “The Higgs boson plays an essential role in understanding particle physics.” Rutherfoord has worked on the ATLAS detector for more than 20 years.
“The Higgs gives mass to all elementary particles that we know of,” he said. “If they didn’t have mass, we would never have anything that makes up what we know and love as ordinary matter of the universe.”
Within the Standard Model of physics, the Higgs boson was predicted but never found — until the summer of 2012.
That’s where the LHC’s ATLAS detector comes in.
Although the ATLAS is a general-purpose detector, which means that it isn’t designed to find only one particle, “It’s certainly true that (it) was optimized for the discovery of the Higgs,” he said.
This is a monumental discovery because the Higgs boson “explains how the world around us works,” he said. “It completes the present picture we have for how the universe works — the Standard Model.”
Cheu, Rutherfoord and Shupe will give a brief presentation after the film. They’ll discuss their contributions to the LHC and what it means to be part of an experiment that involved 10,000 scientists from 100 countries.
Cheu said the film is “a really interesting insight to this world of exploration that we’re involved with.”
Although the film doesn’t focus specifically on the UA researchers, Cheu said one of the first scenes shows the detectors the UA worked on.
“As (the film) opens, you’ll see these detectors being lowered in the pit,” he said, “the things we actually worked on.”