Physics

A high-school student just won $250,000 for this incredible explanation of relativity


The German physicist Albert Einstein needed complex equations to describe his theory of relativity, but 18-year-old Hillary Diane Andales of the Philippines does just fine with a pick-up truck, a few cell phones, and Usain Bolt.

 

Andales is the winner of the 2017 Breakthrough Junior Challenge, an annual competition that calls on teenagers across the world to submit videos no longer than three minutes that simplify big ideas in science or maths.

For her win, Andales took home the grand prize of $US250,000 in scholarship money.

Her winning video was entitled “Relativity & The Equivalence of Reference Frames”. It began by displaying a sideways number, which you could interpret as either a “6” or a “9” depending on which way you turned your head.

The perspective you take, Andales noted, determines your reference frame.

Reference frames are fundamental to relativity because observers perceive things differently if they’re in different locations, she explained.

Andales demonstrated this by recruiting three of her friends to record the sound a pickup truck made as it drove down a road and honked the horn.

Each person stood in a different spot – one in front of the car, one behind the car, and one inside the car – and recorded the sound.

Each reference frame yielded a different sound, since the sound waves coming from the horn were either bunched up (producing a higher pitch) or spread out (a lower pitch) relative to where they got recorded.

 

The same test can be done with velocity and time, Andales explained. If Usain Bolt ran the 100-metre dash at 98 percent the speed of light, a 10-second finish from his perspective would read 40 seconds on the judge’s clock.

The reason is that faster clocks seem to move slower relative to a stationary observer. It’s the same principle that explains why clocks on the International Space Station, which orbits the Earth at 17,000 mph, lag behind terrestrial clocks by about 0.007 seconds every six months.

Thus, as Andales points out, Bolt is the Olympics’ best time traveller.

You can watch her entire submission video below:

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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