Fermilab documentary offers inside look, available online

Fermilab "Science at Work" is a new documentary about life at the laboratory. The film is now on Fermilab’s YouTube channel. Image: Sandbox Studio

When Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross were commissioned to direct a new documentary about Fermilab, they had a couple of questions. The most important one, Ross said, was this: Should the movie be a standard informational video, or should it tell a story about the lab and its people?

Focus on the people and tell the story, said Judy Jackson, former head of the Office of Communication. And that’s when Brown and Ross started getting excited about the idea.

The resulting film, shot over two years in and around the laboratory, is called “Fermilab: Science at Work.” Over its 40 minutes, it follows nine of the laboratory’s scientists, giving viewers an inside look at their work (and sometimes, home) lives. But that’s not to say that the film skimps on the science. It features the installation of part of the MINERvA detector, the construction of the Dark Energy Camera and an animated look at the configuration of Fermilab’s accelerator complex.

Above all, the film puts forth a passionate argument in favor of what Brown calls “curiosity-driven science.” Finding the necessary funding for basic research is difficult, Brown said, but there’s immense value there. As artists, he said, he and Ross could relate.

Brown and Ross are no strangers to the ongoing conversation about fundamental research. As partners in the Chicago-based 137 Films, they previously co-directed “The Atom Smashers,” a 2008 PBS film documenting Fermilab’s efforts to find the Higgs boson. They worked for four years on that film, shooting extensively at Fermilab, so they were already familiar with the lab when it came time to roll cameras on this new documentary.

“We did feel like Fermilab was home to us,” Ross said. “We came in as insiders. We knew Fermilab, we understood it.”

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Andre Salles