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Fun aunt gives children a taste of cutting-edge physics

Documentary. Particle physics. The terms normally don't denote excitement to a group of 12-year-olds.

But a group of Illinois preteens decided to take a gamble and not doubt the aunt they dubbed "the fun aunt" when she proposed at trip to watch the documentary The Atom Smashers as an outing.

Smart move, kids.

To her own surprise, Emily Demar retained her title and got her nieces and nephews hooked on science when they watched and loved the film about the race to find the Higgs boson between Fermilab in Illinois and the European particle physics lab CERN. In a column she writes for a local newspaper, Demar described the experience, and why you too should expose children to science.

One niece noted the familiar faces in the film had been sitting among us in the audience. She regretted not taking the opportunity to get their autographs. Clearly grasping the competitive nature in the film, they argued among themselves about the importance of Fermilab being first to discover the Higgs Boson. The pièce de résistance came when my 12-year old nephew proceeded to draw out on a convenient napkin his ideas for discovering Higgs.

Demar said one of the things about the film was not its discussion of current scientific endeavors in easy-to-understand terms, but the fact that it dispelled stereotypes about physics as dorky and inaccessible.

It puts to rest the fallacy that scientists reside in a different dimension, portraying them as regular Joe's like you and me. In the end, the documentary turns into compelling human drama, with fame, glory and maybe even a Nobel Prize hanging in the balance.

See for yourself when the documentary airs on PBS's Independent Lens Nov. 25.