Ohio high school student wins $400,000 for a video explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity

High school student Ryan Chester has become the inaugural winner of a new scholarship, winning $US250,000 ($354,265) for his seven-minute film that uses simple props and hand-drawn graphics to explain Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

Besides winning that money for himself, Chester, from Ohio in the US, also won $US100,000 for a new science lab at his school in the Cleveland suburbs, North Royalton High, and $US50,000 for his physics teacher, Richard Nestoff.

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:

Ohio high school student wins $400,000 for a video explaining Einstein's theory of relativity

“This is awesome,” Chester, 18, said in an interview on Monday, the day after he accepted the award.

The scholarship means he can apply to a bunch of universities he hadn’t considered before because of their cost, he said: “A tonne of possibilities are open. Before, I was worried about graduating with debt, and I don’t have to worry about that now.”

Here is the video that got Chester $400,000

The scholarship is the newest award in the family of Breakthrough Prizes, which are meant to celebrate the importance of science and recognise brilliance in the fields of math, biology and physics. The Breakthrough Prizes were founded three years ago by Silicon Valley giants, including Google’s Sergey Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. They offer awards ranging from $US100,000 for promising early-career achievements to $US3 million for scientists who have made fundamental discoveries about the world.


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