Loosely inspired by the true story of Gang Lu, a Chinese physics student, but with substantial differences in plot and character motivation, the film stars Liu Xing (Liu Ye), as a humble, but brilliant, Chinese student, who arrives at Valley State University and makes a bumpy transition into American life with the help of Joanna Silver (Meryl Streep), a wealthy university patron who takes a liking to the young student. Xing joins a select cosmology group under the direction of his hero, the famous cosmologist Professor Jacob Reiser (Aidan Quinn). The group is working to create a model of the origins of the universe, based on Reiser's theory. Xing's enormous talent leads him quickly to become Reiser's protégé, and it seems that only hard work stands between him and a bright future in science. But Xing is obsessed with the study of dark matter, an unseen substance that he believes shapes the universe, and a theory that conflicts with the Reiser model. When Xing begins to make scientific breakthroughs of his own, he begins to encounter unexpected obstacles.