UC Davis Professors and Students Inspire through the Documentary ‘Secrets of the Universe’


By Madison Ford

DAVIS, CA–UC Davis Professor Emanuel Calderon de la Barca Sanchez seeks to inspire Davis students and residents to pursue their passions in astronomy and physics through the IMAX documentary “Secrets of the Universe.”


The documentary viewing took place at the Mondavi Center of Performing Arts on Wednesday, Oct. 26, with a large turnout of Davis residents, families, and UC Davis professors and students. Secrets of The Universe centers around the university’s collaboration with the European Council for Nuclear Research, commonly known as “CERN.” According to CERN’s mission statement, they are an international collaborative research facility that uses particle accelerators to study “fundamental physics,” or the making of the universe.


CERN contributes to scientific studies on land, space, and society for art restoration and industrial automation using efficient technology.


Calderon plays a major role; his narration throughout the film guides the audience through the understanding of the science at CERN, and what motivates him for future discoveries. He narrates stories of those who inspire him to pursue this field, listing many historical scientists of different nationalities and genders. 

The particle collisions take place at CERN’s laboratory in Geneva. Calderon describes the particle collider in Geneva as a “vacuum emptier than interstellar space,” replicating the conditions at the start of the universe, the Big Bang. Inside this chamber, two particles barrel toward each other near the speed of light. Institutions around the world analyze the data seconds after the collision has begun. 


Calderon scales the heat of the collisions to be “one-millionth second after the big bang [and] one-millionth times hotter than the sun,” it is considered a hot, condensed ball of plasma that confirms the profoundness of the universe’s origins. Calderon hopes this research can provide insight for future scientists’ experiments, just as scientists throughout history guide him and others. 

Secrets of The Universe also shows the university’s presence in analyzing the data from CERN, and their experiences visiting the Genevan Laboratory. During the Q&A session, the audience asked Calderon and other featured UC Davis professors and students about these experiences. When asked how he got a main role in the documentary, Calderon confirmed that he was only supposed to be a physics consultant: an advisor to keep the film scientifically accurate. However, he mentions that his input was so constant that the director decided to focus on his, and UC Davis’, specific involvement in the collaboration at CERN. 


Calderon utilizes his central role in the film to inspire other students interested in astronomy. He relates the past scientists that inspire him to the audience, noting that they are “ordinary people like you” and that “despite [their] nationalities, many minds put together lead to these discoveries.” 


Calderon frequently vocalizes that some of the greatest discoveries, like those made at CERN, revolve around the importance of synergy and teamwork. He states that the individual’s “human mind is often the greatest instrument of all,” especially when working together. For example, he notes humanity’s pure curiosity to answer the unknown results in some of the greatest discoveries worldwide. This passion that Calderon describes is the motivating force for their pursuit of research at CERN, and the impetus in the making of the film to further energize later generations to uncover the universe’s yet-to-be-answered secrets.

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