Students fight for their lives as living and dead collide

LHC maintenance crew turn into zombies in film by Cern-based student. Matthew Reisz reports

January 10, 2013

The Large Hadron Collider in Geneva may have been the source of one of the most important scientific discoveries in recent years, but it now has an additional legacy - in the zombie movie genre.

Decay was the brainchild of Luke Thompson, a PhD student who is often based at Cern - the European Organisation for Nuclear Research - as his thesis is about the upgrade of the collider.

He said that in his spare time at the facility he would often wander about “exploring the tunnels connecting the different buildings”.

“I thought they were very creepy and would make a great setting for a horror film.

“It also seemed a good opportunity for some satire, making fun of all the scare stories about the LHC, where scientists were said to be creating black holes because they wanted to destroy the world,” the University of Manchester student said. “Our scientists are even worse than the bad scientists in Hollywood movies.”

The film, released as a free download at the end of last year via www.decayfilm.com, follows a group of students who discover that the maintenance crew of the collider have become zombies after a malfunction in the accelerator.

The production - which became an absorbing spare-time project for the students, postdoctoral researchers and their partners who got involved - took two and a half years but cost a mere £2,000.

Clara Nellist, another Manchester physics PhD student who became the film’s assistant director and associate producer, said she was keen to promote science to the public “in any way I can” and hoped Decay would get people talking about physics.

“Researchers laugh at the intentionally bad science, but I’ve also had my 80-year-old grandma asking me about the physics,” she said.

As all the participants had little to no film experience, Mr Thompson recalled, he and his team spent the pre-production process “working out how one makes a film”.

“It turned out to be more complicated than I expected, and the film got longer and more ambitious as the project grew,” he said. Ms Nellist recalled “some days of shooting where we spent 13 hours down a dark, cold tunnel”.

Although there is no official policy against filming at Cern, it was not until the film was almost finished that Mr Thompson “told the authorities and asked if they were happy for us to release it”.

They agreed on the basis that it was made clear that Cern had not endorsed the film. “They’ve got a good sense of humour about it and know it gives the public an opportunity to learn about particle physicists,” he said.

Producer Michael Mazur, who spent four years as a postdoc at Cern, eagerly grabbed “the chance to do something new and different”.

“We wanted to show how science could bring about the end of the world in a totally ridiculous context. But we were also inspired by the (setting) and facilities: dripping pipes and bad lighting - everything screamed it should be a monster movie,” he said.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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