The hairy Nobel

13 minutes

A Jew walks into a bar

24 minutes

Maesteg

10 minutes

Summerhill

28 minutes

Mercury in transit

1 minute

‘The secrets of exotic matter’ revealed by the winners of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to David J Thouless, F Duncan M Haldane and J Michael Kosterlitz for their ‘theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter’ that ‘revealed the secrets of exotic matter’. If that sounds massively difficult to comprehend – you’re right, it is. But, as this collaboration between the French filmmaker Charlotte Arene and the research team Physics Reimagined (at the University of Paris-Saclay) shows, sometimes complex and seemingly obscure discoveries can have consequences well beyond the walls of a laboratory. With a distinctive, shapeshifting animated style, The Hairy Nobel combs through the surprisingly fascinating history of topological insulators, including how their discovery cascaded into breakthroughs in several fields of research, including electronics, superconductors and quantum computers – and prompted a new one.

Director: Charlotte Arene

Being a stand-up comedian is hard. It’s even harder when it’s against your religion

Have you heard this one before? An ultra-Orthodox Jew breaks the rules by going online, falls in love with stand-up comedy, and starts performing in clubs to help manage his crippling social anxiety. With deadpan delivery, and often wearing traditional Jewish Orthodox clothing, David Finkelstein has developed a comedic sensibility that connects with audiences at open mics in New York City. But even as he grows ever more comfortable on stage and finds a second home in the comedy community, the experience is rife with challenges and compromises. Finkelstein is still devout and attempts to adhere to as many of his religion’s rules as possible, even as he operates in a cultural ‘grey area’ by performing. This means no physical contact with women, no vulgarity, and no shows on the Sabbath, which nixes the desirable slots on Friday and Saturday night. And, most challenging of all, it means navigating between two very different worlds as he tries to keep the faith while pursuing his passion.

An endearing fish-out-of-water tale that grapples meaningfully with questions of religious values, culture and mental health, A Jew Walks into a Bar follows Finkelstein as he tries to establish himself in the stand-up scene. The short is one-third of the US filmmaker Jonathan Miller’s feature-length documentary Standing Up (2019), which follows three unlikely stand-ups as they pursue comedy in New York.

Director: Jonathan Miller

Producers: Colin Bernatzky, Katharine Accardo

Website: Standing Up

A cabbie’s tour of his Welsh hometown where the jobs are gone but the stories remain

A generation ago, the Welsh valley town of Maesteg was a booming coal mining and manufacturing community. Today, the mines and factories have all closed, and the sweeping green hills outside town are capped with massive wind turbines. This short documentary chronicles a day in the life of a longtime cab driver, who goes by Stumpy, as he winds his way through Maesteg and its environs. Most of Stumpy’s passengers are repeat customers – often friends and even family – who chat with him about their problems, love lives and times gone by. While the conversations are usually peppered with bantering good humour, they’re also bound together by an undercurrent of struggle and nostalgic longing for Maesteg’s better days. Richly evoking distinct nuances of time, place and community, the UK filmmaker Theodore Tennant offers a bittersweet ride through a memorable corner of Wales.

Director: Theodore Tennant

Producer: Tom Tennant

The school where children make the rules and learn what they want to learn

Established in 1921 by the Scottish writer and educator Alexander Sutherland Neill (1883-1973), Summerhill School in England helped to pioneer the ‘free school’ philosophy, in which lessons are never mandatory and nearly every aspect of student life can be put to a vote. Neill’s radical and controversial view of education was centred on his belief that ‘if the emotions are free, the intellect looks after itself’. Today, despite a series of clashes with Ofsted (the UK’s Office for Standards in Education) in the 1990s and 2000s, Summerhill still operates as a private boarding and day school in Suffolk for pupils from age five upwards.

Neill’s teaching methods and a rising countercultural movement inspired similar institutions to open around the world. Released in 1966, Summerhill explores the school’s educational philosophy by letting Neill and the many international pupils speak for themselves. Candid moments and scenes that evoke the rhythms of daily life at the school give a sense of the children’s lived experience. With an evenhanded approach, the film finds both potential pitfalls and benefits to a Summerhill education – including the results of letting children and teens run laissez-faire around the clock, and the possibilities for students who struggle in the rigid structures of traditional schools.

Director: Dennis Miller

Producer: Cecily Burwash

Website: National Film Board of Canada

Watch the rare, awesome spectacle as Mercury passes between the Earth and Sun

Although Mercury orbits the Sun once every 88 Earth days, the three bodies align only about 13 times a century due to the planets’ relative orbital planes. One such ‘Mercury transit’ occurred on 11 November 2019. This short video highlights the rare event as recorded by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory in a variety of ultraviolet light wavelengths. The resulting celestial spectacle demonstrates the vast size differences between the Sun and its nearest-orbiting planet to awesome effect. For NASA, however, the observation is more than just public outreach eye candy: scientists use these events to help understand the gravitational interactions of planets and stars in hopes of discovering planets outside our solar system.

Video by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Producer: Genna Duberstein

‘The secrets of exotic matter’ revealed by the winners of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to David J Thouless, F Duncan M Haldane and J Michael Kosterlitz for their ‘theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter’ that ‘revealed the secrets of exotic matter’. If that sounds massively difficult to comprehend – you’re right, it is. But, as this collaboration between the French filmmaker Charlotte Arene and the research team Physics Reimagined (at the University of Paris-Saclay) shows, sometimes complex and seemingly obscure discoveries can have consequences well beyond the walls of a laboratory. With a distinctive, shapeshifting animated style, The Hairy Nobel combs through the surprisingly fascinating history of topological insulators, including how their discovery cascaded into breakthroughs in several fields of research, including electronics, superconductors and quantum computers – and prompted a new one.

Director: Charlotte Arene

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Planetary System. Eclipse of the Sun. The Moon. The Zodiacal Light. Meteoric Shower. From Yaggy’s Geographical Study, 1887. Courtesy the David Rumsey Map Collection

Essay/
History of science
Naming the Universe

How the quick thinking of internationally minded astronomers avoided stamping the solar system with petty European rivalries

Stephen Case

Dee, JoJo, Frankie and Lisa after school on Prince Street, Little Italy, New York City, in 1976. Photo from Susan Meiselas’s series Prince Street Girls/Magnum

Essay/
Love and friendship
The biology of love

Humans teeter on a knife’s edge. The same deep chemistry that fosters bonding can, in a heartbeat, pivot to fear and hate

Ruth Feldman