CERN at Hollywood Credit: Sony Pictures
By James Dacey
Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own. He stared up in terror at the dark figure looming over him.
‘What do you want!’
“La Chiave” the raspy voice replied. ‘The password.’
For those of you not familiar with Dan Brown’s flamboyant writing style, these are the opening words of his novel Angels and Demons – a no-holds-barred thriller involving a sexy Harvard physicist, crafty assassins, and a plan to obliterate the Vatican with antimatter stolen from CERN.
Tom Hanks and Ewan McGregor star in a film adaptation, which in on general release in the US this week.
I must confess I haven’t actually read the book (the prequel to the Da Vinci Code), but my friend told me about an event called Angels and Demons – the Science explained and I was sufficiently intrigued to pop along. There was some free wine and snacks too but that had no bearing 😉
The idea of the evening was to come meet some CERN physicists based at the University of Bristol and ask them absolutely anything at all about particles, the universe and everything.
I was at a table with James Jackson, a Z boson specialist who was certainly made to work for his free Chardonnay and peanuts. For over an hour he was grilled with “ok, this might sound silly but what if…” type questions, which invariably strayed into the realms of the metaphysical.
The event was organized by the Centre for Public Engagement at the University and is part of their twilight talks series.
Meanwhile yesterday at the real CERN, a very real drama was unfolding in the aftermath of Austria’s proposed withdrawal from the facility. They will be only the second existing country to do so since CERN was created as an act of European solidarity in the Post War years (Spain left in 1969 but then rejoined in 1983). In the past 24 hours alone, over 4000 people have added their names to an online petition against the proposal.
Naively assuming that all physicists would have heard this news, I found myself delivering a Dan Brown style page-turner when I mentioned it. The Bristol researchers seemed a lot more shocked than I would have expected.
“Austria may only be minor financial contributor but there is a danger this will set a precedent,” said Nick Brook, head of High Energy Particle Physics Group at Bristol.