Back in 1968, designers Charles and Ray Eames made a 10-minute documentary film, titled Powers of Ten
, showing what the universe looks like at different scales. Philip and Phylis Morrison were scientific advisors on the movie, which Philip narrated, and it was chosen in 1998 for preservation in the National Film Registry, which selects "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant motion pictures" for preservation. The Morrisons' book translates the film onto paper.
Starting with a view of a billion light-years, the book (like the film) moves inward, with each page being at one-tenth the scale of the previous one. In 25 steps, you're looking at a picnic by the shores of Lake Michigan, then plunging into a human hand, down through the cells inside it, the DNA inside the cells, the atoms inside the DNA, and the subatomic particles inside the atom. By the time you've gone a total of 40 steps, you're in a world of quantum uncertainty.
There is no better guide to the relative sizes of things in the universe, and no better teacher about what exponential, scientific notation really means. --Mary Ellen Curtin