‘Secrets’ in the Multiverse

People watch a film in a planetarium.
The UC Davis Multiverse Theater played host for the local premiere of “Secrets of the Universe” last week. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Quick Summary

  • IMAX film “Secrets of the Universe” features UC Davis research
  • The movie was shown this week at the SMUD Museum of Science and Curiosity
  • Future showings are planned on campus and at the museum

To uncover something new, first you must look far into the past. That’s what the producers of the IMAX film Secrets of the Universe did, explaining how physics professor Manuel Calderón de la Barca Sánchez’s hunt for answers about what happened moments after the dawn of time is built upon scientific discoveries of the past.

Nearly 100 people filed into the UC Davis Multiverse Theater at the SMUD Museum of Science and Curiosity, or MOSAC, Monday (May 9) for the local premiere of the documentary that tells the story of a team of Aggie researchers preparing to collect data from the nuclei of lead atoms being smashed together at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

“We’ve been waiting for a long time to be able to show the film close to UC Davis,” Calderón de la Barca Sánchez, who narrates the film, told the audience before the showing. “We’re hoping to share the magic of Secrets of the Universe to as many people as possible.”

Guests for this showing included members of the Council of Deans and Vice Chancellors, the Board of Regents and the Department of Physics.

Chancellor Gary S. May welcomed the audience, and said he was “happy to have any opportunity to relax and be inspired in this theater.” The 120-seat auditorium, equipped with a 46-foot display, six projectors and Dolby Digital surround sound, serves not only as a planetarium but also a venue for films like this one. 

Students play a role

Chancellor Gary S. May speaks at podium
Chancellor Gary S. May introduced the film. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)
People on panel discussion
Three students who appear in the film, plus their professor, took questions from the audience. Andy Fell from Strategic Communications moderated. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

The film also shows the contributions UC Davis graduate students made toward the research at CERN — the organization that oversees the Large Hadron Collider — and highlights how discoveries can come from unexpected sources.

Jared Jay, Ph.D. ’21, appears in Secrets of the Universe and called the filming a humbling experience.

“I didn’t really expect to be in a movie when I joined Manuel’s group,” he said. “I hope it can inspire some kids to go into science.”

Ota Kukral, a student working toward his Ph.D., said the filming also provided access to parts of the collider they wouldn’t have visited otherwise.

After the showing, Calderón de la Barca Sánchez, along with Jay, Kukral and fellow Ph.D. student Graham Waegel, answered questions from the audience on their research and the film’s production process.

Calderón de la Barca Sánchez discussed the process of working with director Stephen Low, who said 12-year-olds must be able to understand the research discussed in the film.

“We set out to have it be something that could be relatable,” Calderón de la Barca Sánchez said, adding that he recalled Low telling him: “The lead is going to be the hero and the villain!”

Calderón de la Barca Sánchez said he originally signed on to be a scientific advisor to the film but wound up taking on a much larger role as the narrator.

Audience members said the 42-minute movie wowed them.

“It was amazing,” said Mitch Singer, a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics. “The way they weave all the breadth of science into this was just spectacular.”


Cassandra Tucker, a professor of animal science, serves on the Strength Through Equity and Diversity Faculty Search Committee with Singer and Calderón de la Barca Sánchez, and said the film showcased the physics professor’s drive to amplify underrepresented voices.

“It was beautiful how you could see Manuel’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion all the way through the film,” she said.

Secrets of the Universe has been shown across the United States, as well as in Europe and Asia, but it will soon make its way into a regular rotation closer to UC Davis. MOSAC will hold a screening for members later this month, and will add a shorter version to its ongoing selection of films starting May 25 (visitors should call 916-674-5000 for showtimes). A screening is also in the works at the Mondavi Center; details about that showing are forthcoming.

Media Resources

Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.

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