Powers of Ten

Charles and Ray Eames’ “Powers of Ten”

Charles and Ray Eames, renowned for their groundbreaking contributions to architecture, furniture design and industrial design are ranked among the finest American designers of the 20th Century. They were also renowned filmmakers. Between 1950 and 1982, they made over 125 short films. Some were as short as 1 minute in length and others were as long as 30 minutes. One of my favorites was an exercise in illustrating magnitude, Powers of Ten.

About the Powers of Ten

If you have not seen it, you might be surprised to hear that Powers of Ten is one of the Eameses’ best-known films. Produced in 1977, it has been seen by millions of people around the world. Based on the 1957 book by Kees Boeke, Cosmic View: The Universe in Forty Jumps, the Eameses decided to use its concepts as the basis of a film that investigates the relative size of things and the significance of adding a zero to any number. The concept for the film is simple, but as you will see when watching it, the concept they are trying to illustrate gets pretty large. Like no other work, it uses exponential powers to visualize the importance of scale. Illustrating the scale of cosmic immensity and smallness in just under 10 minutes.

Starting with a closeup of a man sleeping near a lake, it makes its way quickly to the edge of the known universe. Then, just as quickly, it reverses course and descends down to the level of a carbon atom.

Watch the Powers of Ten

Everyone should see this film

Seeing this film in elementary school. I was instantly able to wrestle with the heady concepts it helped illustrate. Over the years, I would see this film many more times. Each time I would find myself hypnotized by it. The idea of largeness and smallness quickly becoming clear to me. No wonder in 1998, Powers of Ten was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. It very much fits the criteria of being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Did I Ever Tell you How the “3-2-1 Contact” Theme Was Created?

If you’re anything like me, you likely benefited more from science-themed television shows and science museums than from actually learning about it in school. As a school subject, I hated science, but as a practical topic outside the classroom, I loved it. I love the concept of science as taught to me by the Franklin Institute, planetariums, MacGyver, and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Yes, MacGyver. The man is an educational hero of impractical science.

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Before all of this (and before Bill Nye ever had a show), one show I used to watch (and enjoy) as a kid was 3-2-1 Contact, which was produced by the Children’s Television Workshop and aired on PBS from January 14, 1980 until November 18, 1988, for 225 episodes and eight specials. In its original concept (the first season), the show was about three college-age students, Liz, Marc, and Trini, who meet in an on campus room called “the workshop” to socialize and discuss science. You know, normal college kid stuff.

The show rotated hosts and meet up locations, but the concept never changed – it wanted to teach us science. And it succeeded in this venture. When I was in high school the lessons were still relevant, and I had a Chemistry teacher who showed us tapes that the high school kept on hand in the library. And if we don’t always remember the lessons we learned from watching the episodes, the one thing we could possibly never forget is that incredible theme song.

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Who didn’t do the countdown? Who didn’t yell “CONTACT!” on cue? Who didn’t learn something from watching this show…even on the recorded tapes in high school science?

This show knew how to suck in the audience – it taught science the way it should be taught – educating while entertaining, speaking on the level kids wanted to be spoken to…and even luring us in with that earworm of a theme song.

But what you may or may not remember (I certainly don’t – I wasn’t born in 1980) was that in the pilot episode, the show taught us its first very important lesson…the science of recording music. That’s right, we learned the science of a recording session for – brace yourself – the 3-2-1 Contact theme song.

I kid you not, on January 14, 1980, this was a thing, and yes, it’s on You Tube.

Prepare to be amazed.

So, let’s make contact…with the play button!

You NEED to see/hear this to believe it!

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Now, sing along with me…






Oh the feels of nostalgic youth!

Allison is no stranger to the feels of nostalgic youth – she not only contributes this for the readers here, but also at her blog, Allison’s Written Words. If you like what you see here, and would like her stuff popping up in your Facebook newsfeed, make “contact” with her blog on Facebook. Another place you can make “contact” with her? Twitter, where she is known as @AllisonGeeksOut.

She knows the code word…shouldn’t you?

You, The Human Animal 16MM Animated Short (1955)

Back in grade school it was always an exciting moment when we came back from recess to find the teacher had threaded up a 16MM projector, I didn’t care really what the subject of the film or short might be as 99% of the time I was sitting right next to it and was allowed to turn it on and off. That comfortable warmth given off by the projector and the soothing sounds of the film running through it…probably had a little bit to do with me wanting to work at a movie theater when I was older.

I remember watching Walt Disney’s 1955 animated short “You, The Human Animal” way back in third grade. This is also the point in my young life where I realized that Jiminy Cricket makes learning 110% more enjoyable.

Thanks to Hb Videos we can watch an actual 16MM print of the short!

I do not know about you but I am quite interested in reading 101 Types of Mischief!

Educational Film Dreams of a Metric United States


When I was in grade school, hope still existed that the United States might make the jump to the metric system. So we were being taught the system most of use today and the more “exotic” (logical) metric way of measurement. Sadly, all of that metric knowledge was dumped as the eighties rolled on and now if I need to figure out how long a meter is I need to run to a computer.

I still think acceptance of the metric system here would be a good thing, even if it would be a learning curve for me at this point. Don’t buy into the idea of metric? Perhaps this 1973 film, “Metric America”, will sway you like it did a younger and much more impressionable me.