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, from the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) Eastern Visayas Campus in Palo, Leyte, 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 math.
As the winner, Andales received a $250,000 in scholarship money as well as a $50,000 prize for her science teacher Xavier Francis de los Reyes and a $100,000 Breakthrough Science Lab for her school designed in partnership with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The total prize is $400,000 or P20.27 million.
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 a race at 98% 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 traveler.
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