By now the huge Higgs news out of CERN is no longer news. The apparent discovery of the Higgs boson has been rehashed countless times in the three-plus weeks since physicists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) outside Geneva announced they had found a new particle with a strong resemblance to the long-sought Higgs.
What has gotten somewhat less attention is just how recently the Higgs hunt was a race, genuinely contested, and not just a time trial for the LHC. As recently as last year, it looked like the Tevatron collider at Fermilab, outside Chicago, might have a chance—albeit a bit of a longshot—to compete against its bigger counterpart across the Atlantic. But the U.S. Department of Energy, citing budget constraints, opted to let Tevatron funding expire in September 2011, essentially coasting out the end of the Higgs race instead of lunging toward the finish line.
That tale is the focus of a new film out this week on Vice’s Motherboard site. “A Death on the Frontier” [embedded below] tells the story of the Tevatron, its Higgs hunt and its demise, drawing on a number of on-site interviews with Fermilab scientists. But the visuals tell it all—especially in contrast to the bright, bustling halls of CERN, the place looks pretty desolate.
The tone of the film, as one might guess from the title, is pretty somber. That’s understandable, given the freshness of the Tevatron’s shutdown, but I do hope that someday the celebration of the venerable collider’s accomplishments—finding the top quark, for instance—drowns out the doleful musings about what could have been. There is one unforgettably lighthearted moment in “A Death on the Frontier,” though—a snippet of a Fermilab educational video from 1992. The charmingly dated video is set to song—including a rap [beginning at about 1:45 in the video below] that explains, in impressive technical detail, how protons and antiprotons are accelerated before colliding in the Tevatron. If mourning the decline of U.S. collider physics is too much to handle on a Friday, the music video is embedded below in its entirety.