The Chemical Educator, Vol. 5, No. 3, S1430-4171(00)03391-1, 10.1007/s00897000391a, © 2000 Springer-Verlag New York, Inc.


Powers of Ten Interactive: A Production of the Eames Office. Presented by Pyramid Media; written, produced, and designed by Eames Demetrios; English version; a production of the Eames Office and Datt Japan based on the film by Charles and Ray Eames: Published by Pyramid Media: Eames Office: P.O. Box 268, Venice, CA 90294, 1999. Telephone: 310-396-5991; Fax: 310-454-4413; Websites:,, or CD-ROM. $79.95, plus $3.20 shipping. ISBN 1-5598-1629-5.


Reviewed by George B. Kauffman,, and David L. Zellmer,, California State University, Fresno, Fresno, CA 93740-8034


For years we have been absolutely captivated, entranced, and enamored by Powers of Ten: A Book about the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero (by Philip and Phyllis Morrison and the Office of Charles and Ray Eames; W. H. Freeman: New York, 1982; $34.95, cloth; $19.95, paperback), which initiated the popular Scientific American Library series that now comprises more than 70 volumes. In an era of hoopla, hype, and unwarranted use of superlatives, we hesitate to proclaim a product “unique,” yet in this case we feel that the book, the films on which it was based, and now the CD-ROM, deserve this overused adjective as well as the highest accolades.

Charles (1907-1978) and Ray (née Kaiser) (1912-1988) Eames are, of course, the well-known American husband-and-wife team designers renowned for the beauty, comfort, elegance, and delicacy of their mass-producible furniture. However, they also wrote books and designed exhibitions, fabrics, and industrial and consumer products. After 1955 they became increasingly active in the making of motion pictures, chiefly of an educational nature, the prime example of which is Powers of Ten.

In 1968 the couple produced an eight-minute, largely black-and-white film titled A Rough Sketch for a Proposed Film Dealing with the Powers of Ten and the Relative Size of Things in the Universe, not only a trial run for a future movie but also “a marvelous film in its own right.” In 1977 for IBM they produced a longer (nine-and-a-half-minute), more detailed full-color film, titled Powers of Ten, narrated by physicist and science popularizer Philip Morrison. The scores of both films were written by Hollywood film composer Elmer Bernstein. In 1989 a 21-minute videocassette, Powers of Ten: the Films of Charles and Ray Eames, Volume 1 (Pyramid Film & Video, Santa Monica, CA; distributed by W. H. Freeman, New York, NY; Eames Office, $39.95, U.S. and Japan; $59.95, Europe) of the two films that included a five-minute introduction to the Eames’ career and films, narrated by Hollywood screen star Gregory Peck, was released. The video received the Miami International Film Festival’s Gold Medal, the Trieste Science Fiction Film Festival’s Special Jury Award, and the Wescon Science Film Theater’s Best Film Award.

Five years in the making, the new Macintosh/Windows hybrid CD-ROM is the creation of writer/producer/director Eames Demetrios, Charles and Ray’s maternal grandson, who has expanded upon his grandparents’ ideas and woven a rich intellectual tapestry that utilizes modern technology to its fullest potential. Accompanied at no extra charge by an extremely detailed tutorial VHS videotape and a 1.4 MB floppy disk (IBM and Macintosh files) to facilitate installation and use, it contains one of the most famous educational films of all time, Powers of Ten (1977 version), updated for the digital age along with its newer companion, Powers of Time—and much, much more. The videotape, conducted by Demetrios, consists of a Basic Tutorial (15 min); an Advanced Tutorial (7 min), which describes bookmarking and how to create “Journeys” (image-by-image experiences of the disk using bookmarked images) and “Tours” (station-by-station experiences of the disk for use in different classroom presentations); Macintosh Install (4 min); and Windows Install (5 min). (“Image” and “station” are described below.)

The classic Powers of Ten film takes the viewer on a breathtaking spatial journey through 44 orders of magnitude (1025 to 10-18 meters). At “the scale of human companionship, conversation, and touch” we observe a couple of sleeping picnickers on a lazy October afternoon in the park near Lake Shore Drive and Soldier Field in Chicago (100 or 1 meter wide). We are first transported at the dizzying rate of one power of ten every ten seconds on a plane perpendicular to the Milky Way galaxy to observe the entire earth (107 m), the orbit of the moon (109 m), the solar system (1013 m), the Milky Way spiral (1021 m), galactic clusters (1024 m), and the outer edges of the universe. We are then returned to the park at the even faster rate of one power of ten every two seconds. Finally we move inward into the sleeping man’s hand with an increase of ten in magnification every ten seconds until we enter a subatomic particle (the proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell).

The Powers of Time film presents a similar journey in terms of time rather than space. Beginning at one second (100 s), it zooms down to 10-18 s. Various phenomena are documented at each decreasing time interval—with computer animations showing the behavior of molecules and atoms at the shortest times. The images and descriptions are scientifically accurate and cease at 10-18 s because quantum effects do not allow resolution of briefer phenomena. Reversing the zoom, we see everyday activities at 10 s and 100 s, then daily changes, then seasonal changes, then changes in an individual life span. The images of a young girl growing into a mature woman through 31 years (109 seconds) are particularly compelling. Time then continues to accelerate past all human history, through the ice ages, and into the eras of plate tectonics where the continents are shown in rapid motion. The formation of the earth and moon are shown, and finally the first stages of the universe itself at 1018 seconds—a most impressive journey.

Anyone with the slightest interest in the universe surrounding us or within us should see both of these wonderful short films, which are available separately from the Eames Office in the larger formats better suited for classroom use. But there is much more. With these films providing anchor points in space and time, the CD-ROM adds more than a thousand images and brief movies (in Apple’s QuickTime format) plus 2400 pages of text and anthology explaining what we see and hear.

The information on the disc is organized into four important divisions:

(1) the 44 Powers of Ten (10-18 to 1025);

(2) Six color-coded Strands—each visited for each Power of Ten by clicking the mouse on the number on the left side of the screen; the border of the screen changes for each strand;

Space (red), which, at each power of ten, accesses the portion of the Powers of Ten film that relates to that power, e.g., for 1021 meters (100,000 light-years) the view reveals the shape of the Milky Way galaxy.

Time (yellow), which, at each power of ten, accesses the portion of the Powers of Time film that relates to that power, e.g., for 1015 seconds (ca. 31 million years), the view is of the (apparently) rapid continental drift.

Tools (orange) that mankind has used to understand each Power of Ten, e.g., Galileo’s telescope, Stonehenge, and representations of the Sun from different cultures. Not all the Tools are instruments. At 109 s we find the Saguaro cactus study; at 1020 m, Myth and Faith; and at 10-1 m (perhaps “the scale of the human heart”), a series on Jane Austen.

People (purple) who thought deeply about each Power of Ten—chemists, physicists, biologists, paleontologists, fishermen, gardeners; e.g., Marie Curie, Frank Lloyd Wright, Edwin P. Hubble, and James D. Watson and Francis H. C. Crick with their DNA model.

Eames (green)—a close look at the Eames’ work including clips from numerous films, rarely-seen photographs, behind-the-scenes stories from the Eames Office, and extensive excerpts from Charles’ celebrated Norton Lectures in Poetry.

Patterns (blue)—different ways to slice time and space; another way of looking at a given order of magnitude.

(3) 264 Stations, each the intersection of a Power of Ten and a Strand image; give access to about 1500 still images, more than 3000 pages of descriptive text, 200 videos and audio clips, the Digital Anthology, and other features;

(4) between 1 and 19 Images (audio or video clips) expressing the idea of the particular Station, e.g., Golden Gate Bridge (103 meters long); more than 800 images and all the interviews were prepared especially for this disc.

The information is seen on three interactive interface screens:

• (1) provides a preview (“teaser”) of each Station (part of a video clip or a series of dissolves through the Images at that Station in the window in the center of the screen);

• (2) allows maximum access to the information resources at each Station; contains a selection of icons, most of which are not self-explanatory, e.g., clicking on a circle gets you a text overview of the image shown, while clicking on a sunburst image gets more extensive text from the Digital Anthology.

• (3) the “Giant Fishtrap,” a map or table of contents where the viewer can use an index function and edit the collection of Images, and where the Powers of Ten and Powers of Time films can be played in their entirety; a useful browsing tool. Once you’ve learned to use it, the Giant Fishtrap is an effective navigational aid to the entire CD-ROM. By running the mouse over the six colored strands you can choose Space, Time, Tools, People, Eames, and Patterns. By moving along a colored Strand you can choose any Power of Ten desired. Text information pops up as you move the mouse, telling you what you can select by clicking at any given spot. The two movies are at the two extreme ends of the Fishtrap.

Because of the complexity and richness of the material, we recommend that you keep the four-panel Interactive Guide, which outlines all the icons and controls in a user-friendly manner, on the desktop as you access the CD-ROM. Sound levels can be controlled by hitting the 1 through 9 keys on your keyboard (except for the two films). Because sound levels vary with different small clips, knowing how to control sound is essential. The images were slightly small for effective presentation in an electronic classroom with a computer projector, but were perfectly satisfactory for individual use.

Each Strand (Space, Time, Tools, People, Eames and Patterns) has a series of still images or short movies to go with each power of ten. You can change power either in the Fishtrap or using the area to the right of the Big 10. Don’t be surprised if the images you get are not what you might expect; this is part of the intellectual adventure of this disk. Choosing Tools and 1011m , for example, got us a picture of a computer chip taken with an atomic force microscope. The images which followed this, by using the arrow icons, were of a planetary computer flyby. This particular tool–power combination showed how computers can make the very large visible to us.

Although we have devoted decades to teaching and learning about orders of magnitude and we regularly manipulate exponents on an almost daily basis, we are still amazed at the tremendous effect of adding another zero as depicted in this CD-ROM, which converts mere cerebral knowledge into a vivid actual experience of the senses. Perhaps if enough students are exposed to this disk, we chemical educators will no longer be forced to groan over impossible answers by unthinking students , e.g., 4.27 ´ 1021 g for the weight of a chlorine molecule, produced by multiplying, rather than dividing, the gram-molecular weight by Avogadro’s number.

This is a wonderful disk to explore for hours on end and literally to get lost in—in the best sense of the word. You can explore all the various absorbing connections and associations between orders of magnitude and acquire an appreciation for the otherwise very elusive concept called scale, a most powerful way to organize knowledge and experience. In Eames Demetrios’ well-chosen words, “Everything in this CD-ROM is ultimately about how man has gotten his hands on the richness of the universe.... [and] how we know what we know from the edge of space to the interior of the atom.”

We enthusiastically recommend this fascinating, delightful, and exciting interdisciplinary adventure, a perfect example of a true marriage between art and science, not only to science teachers and professors, Eames aficionados, science buffs, and everyone concerned with the creative process, but to kids and scientists from eight to eighty. It makes an ideal gift for anyone interested in the world around us and within us

Powers of Ten: A Flipbook (ISBN 0-7167-3441-9), a coproduction of the Eames Office and Optical Toys (P.O. Box 23, Putney, VT 05346), is available from the Eames Office for $11.00 and from W. H. Freeman, 41 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010 ( for $9.95. However, why would anyone with access to a computer choose this 6 in. ´ 4 in. one-dimensional, “horse-and-buggy” version instead of the spectacular journey through space, time, and other dimensions that readily lends itself to the cyber-age CD-ROM? One answer might be that many teachers (especially at the elementary level) will probably find the flipbook a good adjunct to the CD-ROM because students may be a little less intimidated by it and can literally hold the journey in their hands. Also, the students will see the zoom portion of the concept immediately, thus setting the stage for the disk. Similarly, educators may find a 27 in. ´ 27 in. Powers of Ten Poster (Eames Office, $24.00 plus shipping) displaying the steps in the spatial journey useful because students can view it all in one glance.