Wonder of the Day: The Domino Effect


A domino is a small rectangular block, usually of wood, that has either blank or white sides with markings similar to those on dice. The term is also used for any of the games played with these blocks, which are normally 28 in number. They are sometimes called bones, cards, tiles, stones, spinners, or tickets.

Whether you line them up in straight or curved lines, flick the first one, and watch them all fall, or use them to build 3D structures, you can’t help but get caught up in the power of the Domino Effect. In today’s Wonder of the Day, we take a closer look at this phenomenon and find out how one small trigger can start a chain reaction that continues on until all is said and done.

The Domino Effect is also a great way to describe how some behaviors begin as tiny commitments and then create new, more ingrained habits. For example, Jennifer Dukes Lee started making her bed each morning and soon realized that she was doing more than just keeping her home neat and tidy. She was committing to a new self-image and building identity-based habits.

A domino set may be made from various materials, including polymer, bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony. Sets with natural, hand-carved materials tend to be more expensive but often feel more substantial in your hands. In fact, a Domino Effect model can be created using your home supplies. Simply reset a row of dominoes so that they are upright and then carefully touch each one with your finger. Notice what happens and how quickly the rest of the dominoes fall.

When a domino is stood up, it has potential energy, or stored energy based on its position. As the domino is touched, much of this energy is converted to kinetic energy and causes it to fall. This change in energy is what allows a domino to cause other dominoes to fall as well.

Similarly, nerve cells need energy to redistribute ions and return to their resting state after an impulse has traveled down an axon. Without this ionic reset, the nerve cell can’t fire again until the triggering impulse is removed, just like a missing domino that stops a series of falling blocks.

The Domino Effect is also a fun way to teach kids about science and how simple systems can have complex outcomes. For example, a child can experiment with the effects of gravity by setting up a long row of dominoes and then carefully touching the first one. The child can then observe the chain reaction that ensues. The lesson can be expanded to explore the effects of friction, heat, and other factors that can alter the course of a system. This type of scientific inquiry can lead to a deeper understanding of the world around us and encourage young minds to think critically about how things work and why they are the way that they are.