Machines like blenders, washing machines, and even your car use reduction drives made of multiple gears to increase the torque or decrease the speed of rotation coming from a motor. Taking that idea to its extreme, Daniel De Bruin built a machine with 100 connected gears that turns so slowly on one end that a full rotation will take longer than a lifetime.
Each gear pair has a reduction of 1 to 10, so that for every 10 times a gear makes a full rotation, the one behind it rotates just once—and there are 100 hundred gears in total. So for the very last gear to make a full rotation, the first gear has to make one googol (yep, that’s where the name Google came from) rotations—one with a hundred zeroes following it—which looks like this:
De Bruin was inspired to build this contraption after turning 1 billion seconds old at 2:52pm on March 1, 2020. It’s not an anniversary that most people keep track of, and for those who do, it’s unlikely they celebrate the milestone with inane feats of engineering like this—maybe just make a cake with more candles than the local fire department recommends.
A googol is a very, very, very large number that most of us have a hard time putting into perspective, but it’s estimated that there are between 1078 to 1082 atoms in the known, observable universe whereas a googol, by comparison, is denoted as 1 x 10100 in scientific notation. (The reality is that all of this is hypothetical.)
De Bruin has shared videos of this machine running for a full hour, and he’s contemplated setting up a livestream for those tired of watching paint dry and would rather see this thing in action—a generous description of what it does—for a full 24 hours, although he suspects it might not actually survive that long given it’s just a prototype. But worry not, as he’s currently planning to build a more robust version that could be left running for years and years.