Powers of Ten Day
Also known as
International Powers of Ten Day
annually on October 10th (since 2000)
Powers of Ten Day promotes and encourages Powers of Ten Thinking, which is "a form of rich, cross-disciplinary thought that approaches ideas from multiple interrelated perspectives, ranging from infinitesimal to the cosmic—and the orders of magnitude in between." Essentially, this type of thinking is about looking at things from close up as well as from a distance—and everywhere in between—in order to gain a better perspective of them. This thinking and the day itself were inspired by the film Powers of Ten, which explores viewing the world by scale, in different powers of ten. The film was created by designers Charles and Ray Eames, and the day was started by their grandson, Eames Demetrios. He chose October 10 as the date because it can be written as 10/10, and both the film and the thinking deal with the powers of ten. Not only is today for Powers of Ten Thinking, but it is also a day to remember the film the concept comes from as well.
Most known for their work with architecture and furniture design, Charles and Ray Eames had a goal of making science and technology interesting and accessible to everyday people. Their nine-minute film depicts the scale of the universe using the factor of ten. Its opening credits display the words "a film dealing with the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of adding another zero." The film then begins by focusing on a couple having a picnic in a Chicago park, from one meter away. Every ten seconds the camera pulls back ten times the distance—one power of ten—until it has pulled back 24 times, to the outer edge of the universe. After coming back to earth, it then zooms into a skin cell of the man, all the way to the negative sixteenth power, to view quarks inside a proton of a carbon atom. Showing the relative size of the universe, and what happens with scale when you add a zero, Powers of Ten uses 40 powers of ten in total. It is in one shot.
Powers of Ten was influenced by the 1957 book Cosmic View. A prototype of the film was completed in 1968, while the final version was released in 1977. The final version is different from the original in several ways. For example, it is completely in color, it takes place in Chicago instead of Miami, more powers of ten are used, there is a different narrator, and there are improved graphics. It is one of the most seen short films of all time, and the Library of Congress selected it for the National Film Registry in 1998.
Powers of Ten Day is for those wanting to extend their boundaries of thinking, a day to explore and make connections between scales, a day for thinking in terms of scale and applying it to all kinds of subjects, and a day for allowing your perspective to shift after looking at things by scale. An understanding of scale allows us to experience things in terms of size. If people better understand scale, they better understand the things they are dealing with.
Eames Office encourages people to create and share contributions of things such as art and music on the day and to do hands-on learning. When Demetrios created the day in 2000, he wanted there to be a worldwide forum. That year, he chose the environment as a focus of the day and used it to promote Powers of Ten Thinking. He wanted to show that environmental problems are problems of scale. For example, scale is involved with the rapid increase of population and the decimation of the rainforest. But he wanted to show that scale is not always associated with the negative and that a person taking positive action can multiply their results by powers of ten through education and communication. On Powers of Ten Day, we celebrate this line of thinking, as well as the film that helped us think exponentially.
How to Observe
Here are some ideas on how to spend the day:
- Watch Powers of Ten. View it on your own, or put together a screening—and discussion—with others at a home, school, or library.
- Read Cosmic View, the 1957 book that inspired the film.
- Watch Cosmic Zoom, an animated film from 1968 that covers the same subject as Powers of Ten.
- Watch Cosmic Voyage, a loose remake of Powers of Ten that was made as an IMAX film to be shown at the National Air and Space Museum.
- Watch Cosmic Eye, a short film from 2012 based on Powers of Ten.
- Read Powers of Ten: About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe.
- Support the Eames Foundation and visit the Eames house.
- Explore the Eames Office website.
- Read a book about Charles and Ray Eames.
- Watch Eames: The Architect and the Painter.
- Look at the world from different perspectives—from close up, to far away, and everything in between. Work to apply Powers of Ten to your daily life, and learn how it can apply to real-life problems.
- As Eames Office has suggested in the past, use the day to create art and music, and do some hands-on learning.