Liu Xing (Liu Ye), a humble but brilliant Chinese student, 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. Liu joins a select cosmology group under the direction of his hero, the famous cosmologist Jacob Reiser (Aidan Quinn). The group is working to create a model of the origins of the universe, based on Reiser's theory. Liu's enormous talent leads him quickly to become Reiser's protege, and it seems that only hard work stands between him and a bright future in American science. But Liu 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 Liu begins to make scientific breakthroughs of his own, he starts to encounter unexpected obstacles.