Physics flick The Matter of Everything screens this month

We are children of stardust. That is a line out of York alumnus Enrico Lappano’s debut feature-length documentary, The Matter of Everything: A Quantum Dose of Reality, a journey into the world of science from the quantum to the cosmos with a look at the interconnectedness of nature.

Right: An infrared shot of the Helix Nebula from the film The Matter of Everything

That may seem like daunting subject matter, but Lappano (BFA Spec. Hons. ’80, BEd ’97) comes at it as a non-scientist. In fact, he is a musician and teacher who, together with fellow teacher Olga Antzoulatos, wanted to capture the imagination of non-scientists everywhere by exploring some of the fascinating things scientists are working on. Stuff most people are unaware of.

The film asks questions like: How did time come to exist? What was there before the big bang? And if the same amount of antimatter and matter were created during the big bang, then where did all the antimatter go? The film looks at matter at billionths of the human scale to reveal what life is composed of at its smallest measure. It’s the kind of film York particle physicist Professor Scott Menary can really get into – literally. Lappano approached Menary about being in the film at a time when Menary was searching for ways to make science more accessible to the average person. The Matter of Everything seemed like the perfect vehicle.

Left: Enrico Lappano

The Matter of Everything (1 hour, 40 minutes) will screen Saturday, June 20 at The Revue Cinema, 400 Roncesvalles Ave., in Toronto, followed by a question-and-answer period with the filmmakers − Lappano, who wrote, composed and performed all the music in the film, Antzoulatos and Menary.

"Even the word ‘antimatter’, I realize people have trouble understanding what that is," says Menary.

Right: York particle physicist Professor Scott Menary gets physical

So the concept of the search for the Higgs boson, or the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen, may be beyond the reach of most. But that’s what Menary is working on, finding out whether anti-hydrogen is any different from hydrogen. People automatically think they would be, but Menary says that’s not true. He’s trying to trap antimatter hydrogen, and then let them go and study what they do, what happens to them.

He is also looking at neutrinos. There are an equal amount of neutrinos as light particles in the universe, says Menary, but what is their function? It is these kinds of concepts the film tries to convey in a way people can grasp.

"Scott made it very accessible. He wasn’t just a lab coat off in this room somewhere using big words," says Lappano.

Left: The Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator used to study the smallest known particles – the building blocks of all things, at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva

In addition to Menary, the film introduces Paul Delaney, director of York’s Division of Natural Science in the Faculty of Science & Engineering and of the York Observatory, and several scientists from Fermilab, the US National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago where scientists conduct experiments toward understanding the fundamental nature of matter and energy. The scientists talk about the beginnings of life, what they know now and what they are searching for. "They were really excited to share this universe with people…. They are really trying to talk to people about stuff they’re excited about," says Lappano.

The film is not a typical dry science documentary. The science, however, is pure. "It’s really trying to bring it some heart and people can really feel they have had a taste of science…. We’re trying to bring out that humanity in the film…and make it so that it’s something people can bring into their lives," says Lappano, who as a songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist has formed and led several bands, including Tone of Voice, Twist and Never Never. He was also previously the head of music at Woodbridge College where he and Antzoulatos created a film program.

Right: A shot of scientists at Fermilab tracing a particle collision event

Originally, The Matter of Everything was supposed to be a short, 10-minute fictional film about a scientist searching for something, and it was to be a vehicle to teach students the art of filmmaking. Somewhere along the line, the film took on a life of its own.

"We sort of got sucked into the whole vortex of what was happening at Fermilab. It was then we realized it was more of a documentary.” That science is "really an extension of nature. Nature is even more beautiful than any fiction. It’s really a story about beauty," says Lappano. "Our challenge was to invoke this beauty in the images and metaphors used in the film." 

But as Menary says: "The word ‘beauty’ to a scientist and an artist, or the word ‘momentum’, they mean completely different things." It’s the coming together of scientists and artists that makes the film unique.

"The film is trying to communicate the wonders of science in terms of the excitement and the search part of it. People don’t know about the incredible, exotic and abstract things we’re trying to find. There’s all this really exciting stuff going on and you don’t know about it…. It’s hard not to get swept up in Enrico’s enthusiasm for science," says Menary.

To view a trailer of the film, click here. For more information about the film and the filmmakers, visit The Matter of Everything Web site.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer