Screencap: YouTube

A Teen Won $400k for His Video Explaining Special Relativity

Time dilation, how does it work?

Nov 11 2015, 11:00am

Screencap: YouTube

Eighteen-year-old Ryan Chester won $400,000 for explaining Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity and its bizarre property of time dilation in a way that 10-year-olds can understand. He won a total of $400,000—$250,000 as a scholarship, $50,000 to his teacher, and $100,000 to his school to fund a science lab.

In the video above, he uses his parent's house and a couple of other neat little graphical stunts to explain the theory's two main postulates:

1. The laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames of reference.

2. The speed of light in a vacuum has the same value c in all inertial frames of reference.

The first one's easy: the postulate states that objects moving at similar constant speeds, or "inertial frames of reference," follow the same laws of physics. To illustrate this, he sits with a bowl of popcorn in two different places: at rest and in a car going at a steady speed. These are his two frames of reference. But when the car screeches to a halt (no longer keeping the objects in a state of inertia), the laws of physics are different. The popcorn falls off, Chester flies off his seat.

The second postulate, which involves the speed of light and time dilation, is a little harder to pull off, but Chester settled for a nice and concise whiteboard explanation along with some rough CGI spaceships to explain why faster-moving objects seem to age slower from a slower observer's point-of-view:

A nifty home experiment to explain a tangled theory. Just nifty enough to win Chester $400,000 and make him stand out from 2,000 applicants and 15 finalists.