YORK, Maine — The film “Particle Fever” documents the search for the “God particle,” a key piece of a puzzle explaining the origin of all matter.
It shows how scientists recreated conditions that existed moments after the Big Bang to find the Higgs boson, a particle at the center of theory of how the universe works.
The documentary is playing at The Music Hall Loft in Portsmouth, N.H., starting on Friday.
York native and physicist Jesse Thaler, who is in the documentary, will answer questions after the 7 p.m. showing of “Particle Fever” on Saturday.
While many scientists reportedly detest the media’s description of the Higgs boson as the “God particle,” the term gives the layman a sense of the importance of the question physicists were testing: Is the universe immutable and stable, or a chaotic multi-universe or multiverse, in which the only known reality is from where we’re standing?
When the theory of Higgs boson became reality in 2012 during filming of “Particle Fever,” the result was both “exciting and confusing,” to scientists, Thaler said last week from his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Higgs boson fell in the middle of the measurement between stability and chaos.
“We actually don’t know what it means,” Thaler said. “That’s the theme suggested in this film. We had these notions about the way the universe might be. We know what it is, confusing and complexing.”
The Higgs boson was discovered in Switzerland at the European Council for Nuclear Research facility called CERN. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN is the largest particle accelerator in the world. It is five stories high and includes 17-miles of underground tunnels, according to Thaler.
There scientists smashed protons to find an elementary particle that couldn’t be broken into smaller pieces, the Higgs boson. It was measured using Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, E = MC², according to Thaler. It means energy can be converted into the mass of a new particle, he said.
If Higgs boson came in at a unit of mass of 114, the universe is orderly, he said; at 140, it’s multiverse. Higgs boson was measured at 125.
Higgs boson changed the forces of nature after the Big Bang, according to Thaler.
The Big Bang is put forward by science as the instant in time 14 billion years ago when the universe began to expand from a single point in space. During the Big Bang, the universe was heated to high temperatures and all of the forces behaved in the same way, he said.
“The Higgs boson changed that,” Thaler said.
Because of Higgs boson, there’s a division of strong and weak forces, he said. Strong forces include things that bind, such as gravity. Weak forces explain such things as why the sun burns.
Higgs boson “behaves in a strange way,” Thaler said. “It doesn’t bind things together.”
If this means the universe is a multiverse, “maybe our laws of nature are not fundamental,” Thaler said. “It’s a proxy for debate whether our laws of nature are immutable and unchanging. Maybe there are different laws of nature. We live on this fantastic planet. It makes us rethink our place in the multiverse.”
Peter Higgs, who first theorized about the existence of the type of particle, or boson, was at CERN to see his 50-year old theory proven, Thaler said.
Thaler was in Virginia at the time, but was in contact with what was going on by cellphone, he said.
Now that the Higgs boson has completed the Standard Model of Particles, there’s other questions to answer, ones that Thaler expects will also take years or decades to prove.
“The biggest question hanging over our head: What is this crazy dark matter stuff?” Thaler said. “We know it exists, we have no idea what is. The question is not answered by the standard model. That is the kind of question to understand better.”
Thaler graduated from York Middle School and in 1998, from Phillips Exeter Academy.
“I liked math and science at middle school, my love of physics developed as a junior,” Thaler said.
He went on to Brown University and received his PhD from Harvard.
Thaler spent more than three years at the University of California at Berkeley before “coming back to Red Sox Nation,” he said. He’s been at MIT since 2010, where he is an assistant professor of physics.
His parents, Fred and Alalia Thaler, continue to live in York, while he now calls Cambridge, Mass., home.
“I saw the film in Cambridge,” Thaler said of “Particle Fever.” “I was thrilled. I’m biased because I’m in it.”
Thaler became part of the documentary while visiting friends in Princeton, N.J., he said. Filmmakers following his colleagues at Princeton University captured them all discussing research at a Chinese restaurant in a mall, he said.
“Particle Fever” has made the round of film festivals, with the directors and producers trying to get a broader release in theaters, he said. Thaler suggested the local theater in Portsmouth.
“I knew about The Music Hall,” he said, “What a great venue to show the film.”