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Margaret Harris: November 2008 Archives

Fermilab on film

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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 PBSIndependent 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.

By Margaret Harris

Einstein and Eddington
Andy Serkis as Einstein and David Tennant as Eddington

Albert Einstein is certainly the most famous scientist of the 20th century, and probably one of the most important in all of human history. So great is Einstein’s reputation that it makes that of Arthur Stanley Eddington — a fine observational astronomer and a gifted popularizer of science — seem like footnote fodder. Yet without Eddington’s 1919 eclipse expedition, which provided early proof of general relativity, Einstein’s discoveries might have languished for years before becoming known outside the German-speaking scientific community, let alone amongst the general public.

The connections between Einstein and Eddington are the subject of a new film from the BBC, starring David Tennant of Doctor Who fame as a troubled, repressed Eddington and Andy Serkis (best known as the model for Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films) as a flawed but likeable Einstein. Einstein and Eddington airs on BBC2 on 22 November at 21:10 and is well worth a watch — if mostly for the human drama, rather than the scientific content.