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Fermilab documentary offers peek into lives, work of scientists

Fermilab Lab Director Pier Oddone

Fermilab Lab Director Pier Oddone

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Updated: March 19, 2013 6:09AM

BATAVIA — Fermilab has debuted its newest documentary about the laboratory’s work on the frontiers of particle physics.

Think less “high school physics film strip” and more “invitation into the lab next door.”

In fact, “Science at Work” begins not with a peek into the lab, but into the home of a physicist, which looks pretty much like most homes around the Fox Valley.

Particle physicist Brendan Casey feeds his kids cereal, walks them to school, then rides his bike to the frontier campus of one of the world’s most sophisticated accelerator laboratories, where he helps discover the physics that guide the universe.

“I think one of the things (the filmmakers) are trying to show is that scientists are people, too. I’m all for that,” Casey said.

He answered the call to participate in the documentary because he said he wants people to know about the science that happens in their backyards.

“I think what you find when you talk to people locally is people who have never been to Fermilab, who don’t know what’s going on in that big building in the middle of a corn field. I wanted to give people a sense of what we do here, because it’s something that’s important, that happens right in their community.”

The film takes viewers through a typical week at the lab and offers a primer on the campus and the major projects at the facility.

But the past two years, during which directors Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross, of 137 Films, have been anything but typical for Fermilab.

Research and production of the film began just months before the announcement that the Tevatron, once the world’s largest particle accelerator, responsible for several major discoveries in high-energy physics, would be shuttered due to lack of funding.

Already, physicists had been working on several other projects — a neutrino experiment thousands of feet below the earth, a dark energy camera that is now mounted to a telescope in Chile.

“After we started shooting, things just kept happening — new programs came on line and other programs went away,” said Brown. “It stretched out to about two years of shooting.”

Over those two years, Brown and Long Ross said they were struck by the enthusiasm of Fermilab’s scientists and their passion for what they do. That passion became the focus of the film.

“There’s only so much the public can really understand about neutrinos in the space of 11 minutes,” said Brown. “But what people can get right away is the enthusiasm and excitement of the scientists working on it... Without a college physics class you’re not going to understand how a tau neutrino becomes another kind of neutrino and why.

“But once you get past that, the scientists can talk about what that means, why it’s exciting, and how it becomes another piece of the puzzle in how we understand the universe.”

“Science at Work” will be available at Fermilab’s YouTube page,, and DVDs will be available to visitors to the Fermilab campus.

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