A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

The science behind FlashForward

September 18, 2009
Jack Davenport stars as Lloyd Simcoe in ABC's "FlashForward". In the novel, Canadian particle physicist Simcoe is the head of the ALICE experiment at CERN. (ABC/BOB D'AMICO)

Jack Davenport stars as Lloyd Simcoe in ABC's FlashForward. In the novel, Canadian particle physicist Simcoe is the head of the ALICE experiment at CERN. (ABC/Bob D'Amico)

Particle physics might make an appearance in one of this fall's most-talked-about new television shows.

On the surface, ABC Studios' FlashForward seems to have little to do with physics. It's main characters are FBI agents investigating a mysterious global event that causes everyone on the planet to black out for just over two minutes, simultaneously getting a glimpse of their lives six months into the future. But physics and physicists are at the heart of Robert J. Sawyer's science fiction novel Flashforward, on which the show is based.

In the novel, the ALICE experiment at CERN's Large Hadron Collider provides the setting for the event that triggers the worldwide "flash forward." The main characters are scientists and engineers working on the experiment at CERN, including Canadian-born physicist Lloyd Simcoe. The story—written by Sawyer in 1999 but set in 2009—touches on several of today's hot topics in particle physics, including the search for the Higgs boson, neutrino physics, and an LHC startup.

For more on the science behind the novel, check out this video interview with Berkeley Lab physicist Peter Jacobs, Simcoe's real-life counterpart. Jacobs separates some of the Flashforward science fiction from science fact, explaining what the ALICE experiment will really study, what life is like on a large international physics experiment and why the Higgs boson won't be found instantly once the real-life LHC is switched on later this year.

Will particle physics end up starring in the television adaptation of Flashforward? ABC is closely guarding its secrets, but a character named Lloyd Simcoe, played by actor Jack Davenport, will appear in the first season. Tune in to ABC next Thursday, September 24 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern to watch the first episode, or check out the first 15 minutes now at ABC.com.

Tune in to symmetry next week for an interview with author Robert J. Sawyer, and more on the science behind FlashForward.

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