Penn State to screen film that takes unique approach to science storytelling

Patricia Craig
October 10, 2018

“The Most Unknown” is an innovative documentary that attempts to reinvigorate love for scientific inquiry by exploring some of the universe’s toughest questions. The feature-length documentary that premiered at an international film festival sends nine scientists to extraordinary parts of the world to uncover unexpected answers to some of humanity’s biggest questions. How did life begin? What is time? What is consciousness? How much do we really know?

A public screening of the film will be held 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18, in the Pike Auditorium, 22 BBH (Biobehavioral Health Building) on the University Park campus. This is a free event; no tickets or reservations are required.

Following the film will be a panel discussion focused on science communication moderated by Lee Ahern, director of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications’ Science Communications Program and associate professor of advertising/public relations. The panel will also field questions from the audience.

Panelist include:

  • Susan Brantley, distinguished professor of geosciences and director of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State
  • Jenn Macalady, associate professor of geosciences and director of Penn State’s Center for Environmental geoChemistry and Genetics
  • Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences and director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center
  • Rachel Smith, head of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Laboratory, curator of meteorites at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Appalachian State University
  • Erica Smithwick, professor of geography and director of Penn State’s Center for Landscape Dynamics and Ecology Institute

By introducing researchers from diverse backgrounds, then dropping them into new, immersive field work they previously hadn’t tackled, the film pushes the boundaries of how science storytelling is approached. What emerges, said the filmmakers, is a deeply human trip to the foundations of discovery and a powerful reminder that the unanswered questions are the most crucial ones to pose.

“I think there is a deep well of untold stories about how and why scientists do what they do,” Macalady said. “We are easily lost in translation, maybe because we haven’t been motivated to practice telling stories for anyone outside the hive.”

The film, which is available on Netflix, was directed by Emmy-nominated and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Ian Cheney (“The Search for General Tso,” “The City Dark”) and advised by world-renowned filmmaker Werner Herzog (“Fitzcarraldo,” “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” “Grizzly Man”). The film is an ambitious look at a side of science never before shown on screen. The film was made possible by a grant from Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science.

“The Most Unknown” represents “an attempt to break new ground in science storytelling while showcasing the work of remarkable scientists all over the world,” Cheney said.

The event is sponsored by Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, and Institutes of Energy and the Environment.

Watch a 2-minute trailer of the film

Location Map

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 10, 2018