Still the frontier? Bison graze at Fermilab. Credit: Fermilab
By Margaret Harris
What does it feel like to work for an organization that — despite its considerable fame and all the talent it has nurtured over the years — is frankly on the verge of being outclassed? This is among the many questions raised by The Atom Smashers, an oddly moving little film about life at Fermilab in the months before its European rival, CERN, switched on the Large Hadron Collider. It’s scheduled to air on American public television stations starting from 25 November as part of PBS’ Independent Lens series, with repeats around 27 January; check local listings for specific dates and times.
The documentary focuses on the period between early 2006 and late 2007, and there is plenty of material for filmmakers Clayton Brown, Monica Long Ross and Andrew Suprenant to explore here. Over the course of the film, scientific enthusiasm collides with sharp budget cuts and promising results that don’t pan out — all while a neon “doomsday clock” marking the days, hours and minutes to LHC’s first collisions ticks down in the background.