It’s our 6th birthday!

Donate now

Help keep us free

Frames of reference

27 minutes

A view from the window

8 minutes

A day in Pompeii

9 minutes

This adorable sea slug is a sneaky little thief

4 minutes

The human voice

3 minutes

This clever and stylish 1960 film is the most fun you’ll ever have at a physics lecture

Directed by the pioneering UK documentarian Richard Leacock, Frames of Reference is a slick and surreal dive into physics fundamentals and, in particular, why everything is indeed relative. Produced for high-school physics classes, the 1960 film features the physics professors Patterson Hume and Donald Ivey of the University of Toronto explaining, through an intertwined series of lectures and clever demonstrations, how frames of reference shape perspective. Using rotating sets, camera tricks and a visual style that suggests the film noir of Alfred Hitchcock, this is perhaps the most peculiarly entertaining half-hour physics lecture you’ll ever have.

Director: Richard Leacock

This clever and stylish 1960 film is the most fun you’ll ever have at a physics lecture

Directed by the pioneering UK documentarian Richard Leacock, Frames of Reference is a slick and surreal dive into physics fundamentals and, in particular, why everything is indeed relative. Produced for high-school physics classes, the 1960 film features the physics professors Patterson Hume and Donald Ivey of the University of Toronto explaining, through an intertwined series of lectures and clever demonstrations, how frames of reference shape perspective. Using rotating sets, camera tricks and a visual style that suggests the film noir of Alfred Hitchcock, this is perhaps the most peculiarly entertaining half-hour physics lecture you’ll ever have.

Director: Richard Leacock

What does school look and sound like when you and your classmates are deaf?

The California School for the Deaf (CSD) is a free school in Fremont and Riverside for deaf and hard-of-hearing students between the ages of three and 21. In A View from the Window, the US director Chris Filippone and the Iranian director Azar Kafaei observe a third-grade class at the school’s Fremont location. Taking a fly-on-the-wall approach, the directors capture the children as they fuss over the crayfish in the classroom fish tank, speak with a guest about his experience as a deaf black man, and hit the playground for recess. Through their immersive filmmaking, a vivid bilingual world emerges – one that, in many ways, is very much similar to a traditional elementary-school classroom. This touching short has been a film-festival favourite in 2018, appearing at the Palm Springs International Shortfest and the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, among others.

Directors: Chris Filippone, Azar Kafaei

From eruption to obliteration – the sights and sounds of 48 fateful hours in Pompeii

Before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on 24 August 79 CE, Pompeii was a thriving Roman port city and commercial hub near modern-day Naples, and home to an estimated 15,000 people. Closer to the mountain’s base and on the other side, the nearby town of Herculaneum, estimated population 5,000, was smaller, wealthier and a popular resort for elite Romans. After the eruption, both remained buried, their memories lost to time, until they were excavated and identified in the 18th century. In the years since, the continuing excavation of their eerily preserved buildings, artifacts and human remains have given archeologists and researchers an invaluable window into ancient Roman life.

The only firsthand account of the eruption comes from the author and lawyer Pliny the Younger. In his correspondence with the historian Tacitus, Pliny describes helplessly watching from nearby Misenum as the tragedy unfolds: 

Some wishing to die, from the very fear of dying; some lifting their hands to the gods; but the greater part convinced that there were now no gods at all, and that the final endless night of which we have heard had come upon the world. 

This animation, produced in 2009 for an exhibition at the Melbourne Museum, brings his harrowing words to stark and vivid life. Transporting viewers back to the morning of the eruption, the video recreates sights and sounds from that fateful day through to the following night, at which point both Pompeii and Herculaneum already lay buried deep in volcanic ash and debris.

Video by Zero One Studio

Far from sluggish: the remarkable sea creature that weaponises its dinner

Nudibranchs, also commonly known as sea slugs, are a group of snail-like sea invertebrates. Despite appearing more or less defenceless, nudibranchs broadcast their whereabouts with their flamboyant, brightly coloured bodies. From an evolutionary standpoint, it might seem like a curious move, but their luminous skin actually serves as a warning to would-be predators to let them know they’d make for a dangerous meal. While some nudibranchs accumulate toxins and other defensive chemicals in their bodies, others – like the star of this film – have an even craftier method of warding off enemies. This remarkable short from the science and nature documentary series Deep Look details the clever way that some nudibranchs protect themselves by stealing defences from stinging sea animals known as hydroids. You can read more about this video at KQED Science.

Video by KQED Science

Producer and Writer: Josh Cassidy

Narrator and Writer: Lauren Sommer

‘My God! Where’s the human voice?’ A charming reflection on our pre-recorded world

From to Siri to subways to customer service calls, pre-recorded and robotic voices are becoming an increasingly inescapable part of the human experience. In this short animation from StoryCorps, the US author, historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel (1912–2008) reflects on this trend away from human interaction and toward disembodied sentence fragments. Recalling a scene from a tram ride at Atlanta airport with exceeding wit and charm, he considers the richness of the human voice, and what we lose when it’s replaced.

Director: The Rauch Brothers

Producer: Lizzie Jacobs

Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter
Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Essay/
Cosmology
Anthropic arrogance

Claims that the Universe is designed for humans raise far more troubling questions than they can possibly answer

David P Barash

Essay/
History of Science
Forging Islamic science

Fake miniatures depicting Islamic science have found their way into the most august of libraries and history books. How?

Nir Shafir