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One and a Hundred Zeros. Dutch Designer Uses Gears to Visualize the Number Googol11.03.2020

The system of gears, where each gear moves at one-tenth of the speed of its predecessor makes, is a living installation representing googol – a number bigger than the number of atoms in the known universe.

Although googol, which is 10 to the 100th power, is not the biggest number known to man—it sits far behind the micryllion (a one followed by six million zeroes) or Rayo's number, which was recognized in 2007 as the largest number known to man—it is still highly impressive. It has little significance in mathematics, but comes in handy when the need arises to compare or visualize vast amounts, for example the number of subatomic particles or the number of hypothetical moves in a game of chess. 

Curiously, the name “googol” was allegedly coined by a 9-year-old. In 1938, as he played with his nephew, the mathematician Edward Kasner supposedly asked little Milton Sirott about the “name for the biggest number in the world.” The funny word eventually transcended the realm of mathematics—in the late 1990s, a slightly crooked version of the term was used by Larry Page and Sergey Brin for the name of the online search engine they were developing. 

The vastness of the googol boggles the average mind. That’s why the Dutch artist and self-admitted mechanics enthusiast, Daniel de Bruin, decided to make the number a little more palatable, so to speak, by designing a system of one hundred gears that would visualize just how big googol actually was. All of the elements in the system are connected, like dominoes falling in extreme slow motion. 

In de Bruin’s system, when the first gear makes a thousand revolutions, which takes it about an hour, the gear immediately behind it makes only a hundred turns. The third gear, in turn, makes a mere 10 revolutions, while the fourth makes just one, and so forth. Thus, each disc becomes a living equation, trapped in incessant, eternal movement. 

Ponder the mechanism in the video below, especially in light of de Bruin’s own words, offered in an interview with Colossal magazine: “Visible to the human eye, I could only see ten gears moving in my lifetime,” said the artist, known for other, equally astonishing projects, such as an analog 3D printer, a pneumatic pinball machine, and a rather sophisticated can opener.

See the worlds biggest gear reduction run for one hour!
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