Born in Mexico City, Professor Manuel Calderon de la Barca Sanchez is the son of a tenacious father who believed in the value of education and a mother who always encouraged him “to spread his wings and follow his dreams.” As a child, Manuel wanted to be a firefighter and loved video games and computers but soon grew to love math, especially as it related to physics. At a certain point, he says he realized that, “the math was not just leading you to solve a clever puzzle, but it was telling you something about how things in nature behaved, how nature worked.”
Today, Manuel is a professor and researcher with the UC Davis Physics department where he is seeking to understand the Universe through a field called Quantum Chromodynamics (don’t let the big scientific name scare you—this is pretty cool stuff). Manuel’s team smashes the nuclei of two atoms into one another at super high energies (trillions of electronvolts each), forming tiny fireballs that act as recreations of the Universe right after the Big Bang. Protons and electrons are huge compared to what they’re looking at…quarks and gluons in the plasma “fireballs” are fundamental building blocks of all matter and crucial to figuring out their impact on the Standard Model of Physics. With a more powerful machine than ever before, and teams like Manuel’s on the case, what great discovery awaits!?
When he’s not seeking answers to the secrets of the Universe, Manuel loves snowboarding.