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'Mapping the Universe': Berkeley Lab collaborates on DESI documentary

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The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, or DESI, which will be the focus of The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's new documentary.


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MARCH 03, 2023

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, leader of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, or DESI, project, collaborated with researchers to produce a documentary titled “5000 Eyes: Mapping the Universe with DESI.”

The documentary is set to premiere on Mar. 2 at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Fiske Planetarium.

The DESI project has funders and collaborators — including universities and research institutions — from around the world, made up of over 1000 scientists. The U.S. Department of Energy provided additional funding.

Claire Lamman, a graduate student at Harvard University’s Center for Astrophysics, explained DESI is an instrument that specializes in observing and mapping galaxies. Lamman has worked on the documentary since May 2020, noting that she also wrote and directed the documentary.

“We explore the science and people behind DESI,” Lamman said in an email. “Audiences will get to watch a sunset on Kitt Peak observatory, fly through the forest of tiny robots that make up the DESI instrument, and soar through the 3D positions of 15 million real galaxies that DESI measured in the first year of our survey. They’ll see the largest structures in the universe mapped out in detail like never before.”

Collaborators on the documentary include Michael Levi, Director of the DESI collaboration and Senior Lead Scientist at Berkeley Lab, as well as several producers from Fiske Planetarium: Nickolas Conant, Amanda Wimmer-Flint, Thor Metzinger, Jon Schiller and John Keller.

Conant, who is also the Theater Manager at Fiske Planetarium and an instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder, said the “5000 eyes” in the title represent the 5000 fiber optic cables each controlled by a “robot” that can observe galaxies across the universe better than any other instrument has been able to before.

“DESI is building the largest-ever and most precise map of our universe, by measuring the 3D positions of 40 million galaxies and quasars,” said Nathalie Palanque-Delabrouille, co-spokesperson of the DESI collaboration and director of the Physics Division at Berkeley Lab. “DESI is observing both nearby and distant sources, thus tracing the history of our universe over the last 12 billion years.”

Palanque-Delabrouille was part of the original group of researchers for DESI around 2010. She described her journey in the project both as “thrilling” and “an adventure.” She noted that collaborating with scientists all over the world has been amazing as they strived to achieve what DESI is now capable of.

The documentary will be available for download by planetariums worldwide, according to Conant. The documentary is also set for release in French, Spanish and Mandarin by the end of March. According to Palanque-Delabrouille, the plans to translate the documentary into German, Catalan, Galician, Korean, Portuguese and Hindi are also ongoing.

“The work of DESI represents the work of hundreds of scientists and engineers around the globe,” Conant said in an email. Fiske’s mission is to create innovative, immersive, and inclusive experiences to engage and inspire communities by connecting science, technology, and the arts. We love working with scientists and artists in all fields!”

Contact Lucía Umeki-Martínez at 


MARCH 05, 2023