Powers of Ten

Charles and Ray Eames’ classic short film illustrates the magnitude of scale by visualizing exponential powers.

Tell me more. “Powers of Ten” illustrates the idea of scale in an elegant 9-minute film that begins with a close-up shot of a picnic and expands to the scale of the universe at a rate of 10-to-the-tenth meters every ten seconds. Then, in reverse, we zoom into the structure of a single atom. Charles and Ray Eames, known for their radical contributions to modern furniture and industrial design, brought a curiosity, joy and simplicity to their work that pervades this piece.

Classroom Applications: Driven by a question about the “relative size of things” and the significance of adding a zero to any number, “Powers of Ten” invites us to consider how we might illustrate these ideas ourselves. How might a math or science class remake this film while studying exponential powers? If this film is an example for how a complex concept might be explained in simple terms, how could it inspire students who are invited to make an educational film themselves? A social studies teacher might introduce this film in a conversation about cartography and scale, and a design teacher might use it to discuss different solutions in large and small contexts.

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