The Sciences

Sneak Preview

Cosmic VarianceBy JoAnne HewettOct 6, 2005 4:31 AM

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The folks at SLAC got a treat today - a special sneak preview of the upcoming NOVA documentary : Einstein's Big Dream. Part of the flick was filmed at SLAC last spring, which is why we pulled off this special viewing with the film's director gig. We viewed a 35 minute excerpt of the 2 hour film. Looking around the packed auditorium, I'd have to say that everyone was riveted. It was a good show, but let's face it, most of us were sitting there, waiting for SLAC to make it's appearance! Finally, in the last 5 minutes, SLAC and SLAC physicists Caolionn O'Connell, Stephon Alexander, (both of Quantum Diaries fame) and Michael Kelsey were featured. The auditorium broke out in major applause, laughter, and whistles. My impression? I liked it and will tune in on Tuesday to view the full-length version. Overall, they emphasized the role of women in science throughout history (highlighting some unsung heros), perhaps, to be honest, to a bit of an extreme. I left the room thinking men got a bit short-changed. But what they captured best, is how engrossed us physicists become when we are entangled in a problem. They accurately demonstrated how The Problem becomes our main focus in life, no matter what distractions are going on about us. And how we don't rest until it is solved. The film mixes full drama - with script and actors - with the usual talking heads that we are used to in a science documentary. And from the parts I saw, it does this well. It began as a full costume period piece, with Einstein in 1905. It then went through the development of each component of the famous E=mc^2 equation, including the `2 is for squared' part which I really liked. Each component had its own historical rendition with real actors and credited Faraday, Lavoisier, Roemer, and a French woman - du Chatelet - for discovering the various pieces of The Equation. Next it explored the consequences of The Equation, starting with Lise Meitner's realization of nuclear fission. For modern times it included the Good and the Bad, with the Bad being The Bomb and the Good represented by The Future, which was equated with SLAC. So, why SLAC? This came up during the Q&A session after the screening. Answer: Wanted a place that was relevant to The Equation, so was looking for an accelerator. Wanted an accelerator that had a new project, answering interesting questions (was intrigued with BaBar focusing on the matter anti-matter asymmetry of the universe). Wanted a great combo of talent and personalities that would look good on screen (say no more - SLAC's the place!). Wanted a good visual impact to end the film. Wanted something different from Fermilab and CERN (no comment). Seems that SLAC fit the bill and fulfilled its role wonderfully. Course, I'm not biased or anything.... See the film: Tuesday 11 October on a PBS station near you.

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