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Museum seeks contributions to giant chain reaction

On the day after Thanksgiving, the MIT Museum will create a giant science chain reaction consisting of individual mechanical chain reactions made by MIT departments, families, clubs and community groups, as part of its annual Friday After Thanksgiving (FAT) Program.

The museum invites MIT departments to pool creative resources to create links for the chain. Students, staff, and kinetic sculptor Arthur Ganson will be on hand to facilitate connections between individual chain reactions to create one grand chain reaction that will snake its way through the museum.

Interested faculty and departments should register their entry beforehand by sending e-mail to or calling Marcia Conroy at 617-452-2827. Chain reactions will be connected to one another at the museum beginning at 10am on Friday, Nov. 26. The program runs until 5pm that day.


Imagine a ball rolling down a pipe, landing on a board, which falls onto a string, which pulls six precariously balanced blocks, which fall into a pan causing it to get heavy enough to... That's the idea! A chain reaction can be as simple as books falling against one another or as complicated as a Rube Goldberg invention.

Each group's link in the chain reaction should be 2-ft. wide or less, no taller than the tallest person in the group, and no longer than 6 ft. It should use no chemicals (baking soda and vinegar are acceptable), no plug-in electricity (batteries and low-power DC are okay), nor require more than a cup of water.

Group links must begin and end by a string pull. It must take no more force than the hanging weight of a golf ball to start the link, and must end by pulling a string with enough force to lift a golf ball. The link must be repeatable; resetting the link is acceptable. Groups should test their chain reactions before bringing them to the museum.

Group chain reactions could be funny, playful, clever, whimsical, or elegant but should be symbolic of the group or department, and should last between 30 seconds and five minutes.

For more information, see the MIT Museum web page or send e-mail to the address above.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 3, 1999.

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