DayJune 20, 2023

The Science Behind Dominoes


Dominoes are a fun way to spend time with friends and family. You can line them up in interesting shapes or play games such as Concentration and Blocking. Some dominoes are even used to make sculptures. But what happens when a domino falls, setting off a chain reaction? There is a lot of science behind domino, and it’s all about gravity.

A domino is a small rectangular block, usually square or round in shape, bearing from one to six pips or dots. A set of dominoes consists of 28 such tiles and can be used to play several different games. The game’s popularity grew in the United States during the 1950s, when Domino’s founder, David Brandon, established a business model that emphasized speed and convenience. He opened a number of Domino’s locations near college campuses, a strategy that proved highly successful.

When Hevesh creates one of her mind-blowing domino setups, she begins by considering the theme or purpose. After that, she brainstorms images or words that she might want to include in the design. She also chooses the layout for the dominoes, and considers which pieces will be “wild” or not — those that can be matched with any other tile.

Once Hevesh has the layout in mind, she sets the first domino in place. Then, she places each subsequent tile along the edge of the first. If she’s using a double-six domino set, for example, the second tile placed must have a total of 12 pips on both its ends and match with the first tile played. Identifying the number on each end of a domino is easy when the chain is short, but as the chain gets longer, it can become more difficult to tell which ends are matching. That’s why some large domino sets use more readable Arabic numerals instead of pips.

Physicist Stephen Morris agrees that the most important factor in a domino effect is gravity. When a domino is standing upright, it has potential energy, or stored energy based on its position. But once the first domino falls, much of that potential energy converts to kinetic energy, or energy of motion. Some of that energy is transmitted to the next domino, pushing it over. And so on, until the last domino has fallen.

While many people enjoy playing domino, some are more talented than others and can create some truly amazing structures. Some of these designs take days to create, and can involve millions of dominoes. Other more intricate dominoes can be created in just a few minutes.

While it’s hard to predict exactly how a domino will fall, scientists are working on some models that might help. These models will use computer simulations to model how a domino’s rotational and linear velocity may be affected by the surrounding structure, and how its momentum and angular velocity may change over time. It’s hoped that this research will lead to new strategies for designing and building dominoes that can be more easily controlled.