The Atom Smashers

By John Conway | August 21, 2008 1:37 pm

A while back Sean wrote about the documentary film “The Atom Smashers” by Clayton Brown and Monica Ross, two Chicago-area filmmakers. The film is in final editing now, and in fact will premiere at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago next month, September 19! My wife Robin and I, who appear in the film, and our good friends and colleagues Ben Kilminster and Marcela Carena, will be in a panel discussion following the film.

The fantastic news is that PBS’s Independent Lens has picked up the film, and a shortened version will be broadcast late this year or early next year! I have not seen the film yet, but Ben and Marcela have, and they love it…I hope the 1.5 million people who see it then love it too!

The film has been coming for about four years now. In late 2004 I first connected with Clayton and Monica and they came out to Fermilab, and they took interview footage and started making shots of the lab, the accelerators, the environment etc. I even got them inside the Cockroft-Walton accelerator, the most sci-fi looking thing at the lab, which appears on the poster here.

I think they came out at least ten more times over the next year or so, and gradually I got the idea of what they were all about, and how to talk on camera. (At least I hope I got that idea right.) The story they want to tell centers on the search for the Higgs boson at the Tevatron at Fermilab, but delves into the state of government support for this physics and science funding in general, and what the lives of people like us who do this work are like. They interviewed lots of other people, from Peter Higgs to Leon Lederman to ordinary mortals like us. I can’t wait to see it!

Monica and Clayton managed to catch our field at a rather tumultuous time – could the Tevatron beat the LHC to making a major discovery? Could the field manage to gain support from the government during a time of war, economic downturn, when no major discoveries were emerging from the field? Was hope dwindling that a huge new project, the International Linear Collider, could be built in the US? It will be interesting to see how all this comes out in a 48 minute cut of the film…

Here is the trailer by the way. (Ben is the roller-blader.)


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