POWERS OF TEN AND THE RELATIVE SIZE OF THINGS IN THE UNIVERSE

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1977

POWERS OF TEN is another Eames project in which the idea of exponential series is investigated. In the films A Communication Primer and the Mathematica Peep Show, Charles and Ray used the system of exponential powers to visualize the importance of scale. When they came across the 1957 book by Kees Boeke, Cosmic View: The Universe in Forty Jumps, they decided to use it as the basis of a film investigating the relative size of things and the significance of adding a zero to any number.

The film translates Boeke’s book into a series of continuous camera moves, starting with a scene on Earth and steadily moving away until the edge of the known universe is shown. Then the traveler moves back again to Earth, continuing down to the level of a carbon atom. The film begins with a close-up shot of a man sleeping on a golf course in Florida:“…a scene one meter wide, which we view from just one meter away.” The camera pulls back at a rate of 10 to the tenth meters per second (“In each 10 seconds of travel the imaginary voyager covered ten times the distance he had traveled in the previous 10 seconds.”)

In 1998, Powers of Ten was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Learn about the importance of Powers-of-ten thinking here.

For more information on the film, please see the official POWERS OF TEN website.

9 minutes.  Color.