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Anadi Canepa | TRIUMF | Canada

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CERN in the movie theaters

The movie “Angels & Demons” from a novel by Dan Brown has been released this week-end. As well as its predecessor,  the “Da Vinci Code”, both the book and the movie raised quite some interest.

Publicity poster for "Angels and Demons," a Ron Howard Film, starring Tom Hanks, to open on May 15, 2009. Credit: 2009 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Publicity poster for "Angels and Demons," a Ron Howard Film, starring Tom Hanks, to open on May 15, 2009. Credit: 2009 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The plot is about the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. The story begins with the murder of the most respected CERN physicist supposedly by a secret society called the Illuminati. The physicist has newly discovered antimatter which is though of a weapon of destruction. That antimatter is made using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)  and is stolen from CERN by the Illuminati. The evil goal of the Illuminati is destroying Vatican City. The idea behind the book is the conflict between science (Illuminati’s society abusing of CERN discoveries) and the Roman Catholic Church.

Despite the fact that I am not inclined to such readings, I did buy the book on my way back from Vancouver.
It was a way to relax during the long flight, but my pre-judgment did not change much!

Nevertheless, the novel and the book draw attention of the general public towards CERN and its activities.
(Parts of the movie were actually filmed at CERN).

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This is extremely important for our field and for the general education of society. I do believe that each
community of experts should invest time and resources for spreading knowledge to non-experts. Given that
such activity is not foreseen in profit oriented companies, laboratories and universities should take the
opportunity to pursue this goal. Public lectures, organized visits, etc are already pretty common in our
field. The message we want to convey is two-folded. On one hand, the rigorous mathematical foundations of
science as it stands today and its predictive power have to be presented; on the other hand, the amazing
advancement of experimental physics, with strong emphasis on the complexity of our tools can be used to
raise interest. Our aim is to try and educate people who are not in science in general and physics in particular; besides this, we want to convince young and enthusiastic students to join our field by showing the depths at which phenomena are understood along with the fascinating open questions we want to answer.

Embracing the opportunity of the movie launch to discuss the real science of antimatter, CERN has opened an exhibition starting this Sunday (May 16th) where all questions the novel and the movie might have generated can be answered.  “You can learn how antimatter is made, whether it could be a new source of energy, and what the science of the movie has in common with current research – and much more”. Events are also planned in particle physics institutions  across Europe, Asia, Central North and South America. If you want to know more, go here. http://angelsanddemons.cern.ch/expo

When the task is spreading science, care must be taken to validate each statement. Strong internal and external reviews  make sure that the results of experiments are solid and can be reproduced; similarly scientists presenting their research or giving broader talks on the current status of research do not abuse of the fascination that the current state of the art could actually induce in non-experts. Similarly, books and movies should go through a process of review. The novel “Angels and Demons” was found incorrect in few parts and errors were pointed out. CERN has created a web page to lead the reader through common misunderstandings: http://angelsanddemons.cern.ch/

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