Mental Floss

Watch This: Powers of Ten

Chris Higgins
YouTube / Eames Office
YouTube / Eames Office / YouTube / Eames Office

In 1977, Charles and Ray Eames made a film showing just how tiny we are...and how huge. Funded by IBM, the filmmakers chose a simple premise: Show an overhead view of a few humans, then move the "camera" back, increasing the speed of our movement tenfold every 10 seconds. Then, once we are insanely distant, reverse the move, increase the speed, and zoom ever inward, to see the tiny structures inside.

Inspired by the book Cosmic View by Kees Boeke, the film's full title is Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero; an earlier 1968 version was a similar mouthful: A Rough Sketch for a Proposed Film Dealing with the Powers of Ten and the Relative Size of Things in the Universe. Most people just call it Powers of Ten.

The film is a powerful teaching tool (I first saw it in middle school science class), revealing both how changes in perspective elicit changes in understanding, and the raw power of logarithmic math. Have a look:

Trivia note: Powers of ten have names, common ones being million, billion, trillion, etc. The number dubbed "googol" is 10 to the 100th power. This name was the inspiration for "Google."