Domino is a set of 28 black and white squares, often referred to as “bones,” “cards,” “tiles,” “stones,” or “tickets.” They’re popular for games like tic-tac-toe and poker. Depending on the game, players can knock them down one at a time or line them up in long rows.
The Domino Effect
If you’ve ever set up a domino course, you’ve probably seen what happens when a domino falls down. It sets off a domino chain reaction, causing each domino to fall and eventually crash into the next domino in the course. But this effect isn’t just fun for kids; it’s a great example of how the law of physics works in the real world.
In the late 1980s, physicist Lorne Whitehead published an article in the American Journal of Physics that illustrated this principle using the chain reaction between dominoes. It showed that if you start with a domino number one and continue in a geometric progression, every single domino will knock down a domino that’s 50% larger than itself.
The chain reaction is a simple yet profound demonstration of the principles of exponential growth, which are also known as the Law of Large Numbers. For this reason, dominos have been used in many scientific experiments, from rocket fuel to computer chips.
Lily Hevesh, a professional domino artist in New York City, is one of the most successful domino artists in the world, creating installations with millions of dominoes and earning a Guinness World Record for her 76,017-domino circular arrangement. Her work has been featured on TV, in movies, and at concerts.
She creates test versions of each section of her installation to ensure they all function correctly. Then she puts them all together, filming the whole process in slow motion so she can make any corrections on-the-fly.
What makes a good domino display?
It’s impossible to describe the exact science behind a good domino setup, but there is one physical phenomenon that is critical to its success: gravity. Hevesh says that when a domino is placed upright, it stores potential energy. A tiny nudge is all it takes to push that energy beyond its tipping point and cause it to fall.
What’s more, when a domino is knocked down, the force of gravity sends it crashing into the next domino in the chain. This causes a domino chain reaction that’s 50 times bigger than the first, sending it on to knock down another domino that’s 50% bigger than the one before that, and so on.
You can see this in action in the famous domino chain that forms the backdrop for The Empire State Building in New York. It’s an incredibly simple example of the chain reaction that occurs in nature, but it’s powerful enough to make people pay attention when they see it.
If you have a set of dominoes in your home, try setting them up in a row and then tipping the first domino in line. You might be surprised at how quickly it falls, especially if you use a lot of dominoes to form the lines.