Seeing the Unseen

MIT Electrical Engineering laboratories, Cambridge MA
Black & White
Harold E. Edgerton
Film type:
35mm camera original
Run time:
Harold E. Edgerton, James R. Killian Jr., Mae Webster
“Seeing the Unseen” is a silent black-and-white film that Harold E. Edgerton produced in October 1936 to showcase a variety of examples of his stroboscopic and high-speed photography work. Title cards introduce each section. Clips include various views of milk drops, a cutting tool in a machine shop, a hot poker in brine, a 'gurgle gurgling' as water is poured from a large jug, a sewing machine, a coffee percolator, teacups of milk being dropped, muscles in movement and hummingbirds. Many still versions of these images were included in the 1939 book titled “Flash! Seeing the Unseen by Ultra High-Speed Photography,” by Harold Edgerton and James R. Killian, Jr. (Boston: Hale, Sushman & Flint).

Tagged: hammer, high speed photography, hummingbird, machine, milk, milk drop, muscle, poker, Seeing the Unseen, sewing machine, slow motion, stroboscope, teacup

00:00:01 Introductory information: film title, synopsis, date, run time.
00:00:08 Film begins.
00:00:10 [Title card] "The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Presents
00:00:20 [Title card] “Seeing the Unseen"
00:00:30 [Title card] "Explorations of the strange and beautiful world of motion that surrounds us unseen by sluggish eyes. A new series of high-speed motion-picture studies taken with the stroboscopic light by a method developed by the Institute's Electrical Engineering Laboratories”
00:00:47 [Title card] "The sequences which follow represent informal applications of the high-speed technique which is constantly being used by scientists in a variety of experiments and investigations / October, 1936"
00:00:56 [Title card] "First, here are the acrobatic milk drops - an old team with new variations / 700 pictures per second"
00:01:05 Milk dripping into a cup, shown in slow motion.
00:01:13 Close-up of the milk dripping from the tip of the pipette.
00:01:50 Close-ups of the milk drops hitting the surface of the milk.
00:02:28 [Title card] “Now keep an eye on the small drop as it goes into reverse, and later, as it smacks the spout”
00:02:38 [Title card] “Next we see surface tension building a bubble - first failing, then succeeding”
00:02:44 A milk drop hits the surface of milk in a cup three times, twice creating a bubble.
00:03:30 [Title card] “Turning to more solid fare, we see in the machine shop a shaper tool nervously cutting steel and then cast-iron. Note the chatter action”
00:03:43 A cutter tool in a machine shop cuts through various materials.
00:04:16 Close-up shots of a cutter tool in action.
00:04:25 [Title card] “We now plunge a red-hot poker into brine and see the turbulent beauty of its sizzle / 1200 pictures a second”
00:04:35 A hot poker is swirled around in brine.
00:04:55 Another shot of hot poker swirled around in brine.
00:05:05 [Title card] “You have heard but have you seen a gurgle gurgling? Well, here's some caught in the act”
00:05:14 Liquid is poured out of a large jug into a pan.
00:05:36 [Title card] “The Dorcas Society will welcome this recording of their favorite instrument”
00:05:41 Close-up view of a sewing machine needle stitching through fabric.
00:05:59 [Title card] “And in your kitchen, come the dawn, the breakfast coffee thus yields its fragrance”
00:06:06 The top of a coffee percolator is shown as hot coffee is brewed and percolates.
00:06:31 [Title card] “No use crying over spilled milk, at least when it behaves this way”
00:06:37 A teacup of milk hits the floor and shatters, showering the milk everywhere.
00:06:45 [Title card] “This cup, dropped on a board instead of concrete, was not made of rubber”
00:06:53 Multiple shots of a teacup full of milk being dropped onto a board of wood, and bouncing off unbroken.
00:07:27 [Title card] “In the following two sequences watch the arm and calf muscles quiver as they work”
00:07:34 A shirtless man hammers a nail to demonstrate how upper body muscles quiver when they work.
00:08:01 Multiple shots of a man as he jumps onto a platform to demonstrate how leg muscles quiver when they work.
00:08:21 [Title card] “In conclusion we journey to New Hampshire to visit the Humming-bird Lady [Mrs. Mae Webster, wife of Laurence J. Webster, MIT Class of 1893] and to photograph her pets. Here they are as an ordinary camera would see them”
00:08:36 Mae Webster interacts with multiple hummingbirds that sip at feeders she holds in her mouth and hands; filmed at regular film speed.
00:08:50 [Title card] “And as the high-speed camera sees them. The wings beat 50 times a second as the birds pivot and hover and park on emptiness”
00:09:03 Multiple slow-motion film shots of hummingbirds feeding, flying and hovering.
00:10:24 [Title card] “A dainty dinner rewards our heroine”
00:09:37 A hummingbird feeds at a tube feeder.
00:10:36 [Title card] “The End”
00:10:46 © 2010 MIT credits.

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