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Museum plans chain reaction

Instead of fighting the crowds at the malls, MIT Museum visitors of all ages will be unveiling personal works of performance art and science by creating a gigantic chain reaction at the museum's annual Friday after Thanksgiving (F.A.T.) program. This year's program will take place on Nov. 23 from 1 to 4 p.m. in duPont Gymnasium. A workshop to help participants beforehand will be held Nov. 18.

On Nov. 23, creators set up their links from noon to 1 p.m. and then tinker while answering questions from spectators until 3 p.m. They then test the contraptions and make adjustments. On hand to mastermind the choreography of this amazing machine is renowned chain-reactionist and MIT artist-in-residence Arthur Ganson. By about 3:30 p.m., he and the link creators have produced one contiguous, continuous chain reaction.

The F.A.T. Science Chain Reaction has grown in popularity since its 1999 launch. Past participants have included school groups, professional mathematicians, theater groups, architects, dorm cliques, scout troops, clubs and neighborhood kids from all over New England.


What exactly is a chain reaction? Imagine a ball rolling down a track that lands on a board that tips a book that falls onto a cord that pulls six precariously balanced blocks into a pan that tugs the string of the next chain reaction, setting that device into motion. Because they are personal inventions, often using objects found around the homes and offices of the teams creating them, no two chain reactions are alike. Some are highly intricate while others use simple building blocks or LEGOs.

Budding inventors may visit MIT Museum's F.A.T. web site at http:// for guidelines and video of last year's chain reaction, or call x3-5927 to receive instructions by mail. They may also attend one of the workshops (see below) or e-mail for answers to specific questions.


The workshop will be held on Sunday, Nov. 18 from 1 to 4 p.m. Link creators can talk with staff and MIT artist-in-residence Arthur Ganson about the secrets of making inventive chain reactions. They will also build their own contraptions--incorporating programmable sensors and motors, if they so choose. At the end of each session, participants will create a miniature chain reaction to be exhibited at the museum in anticipation of the Nov. 23 event.

Workshop participants must register at the museum on the day of the workshop; space is first-come, first-served. The cost is $4 per person plus general admission to the musuem, which is $5 for adults; $2 for students, seniors and children under 18; and free with an MIT I.D.


The F.A.T. Science Chain Reaction is also becoming a popular spectator sport. During the event, spectators may also participate, helping link creators work out snags by blowing up a balloon, holding a level, cutting a piece of string or offering encouragement.

Spectators may arrive any time between 1 and 4 p.m. The chain reaction is usually set off around 3:30 p.m. but for most loyal spectators, the greatest excitement is in watching the whole contraption take shape.

Admission to the museum and the chain reaction for both spectators and creators is $5 for adults; $2 for children, students, and seniors; and free with an MIT ID. All facilities are wheelchair accessible. Free parking is available in the West Garage on Vassar Street near duPont or in the Windsor Lot on Windsor Street next to the museum.

Link creators must register for the F.A.T. Science Chain Reaction by e-mailing or calling x3-5927.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 14, 2001.

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