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

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1977

Powers of Ten is one of the Eameses’ best-known films.  Since it was produced in 1977 it has been seen by millions of people both nationally and internationally.  As with A Communication Primer and 2n (a 2-minute Peep Show from the exhibition, Mathematica), in this film, Charles and Ray employed the system of exponential powers to visualize the importance of scale.

When the Eameses 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.

Powers of Ten illustrates the universe as an arena of both continuity and change, of everyday picnics and cosmic mystery. It begins with a close-up shot of a man sleeping on a golf course in Florida, viewed from one meter away.  The landscape steadily moves out until it reveals the edge of the known universe.  Then, at a rate of 10-to-the-tenth meters per second, the film takes us towards Earth again, continuing back to the sleeping man’s hand and eventually down to the level of a carbon atom. 

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.

You can also read our Powers of Ten blog.

9 minutes.  Color.