Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Physics of the domino amplifier

In 1983, Lorne Whitehead of British Columbia set up a domino amplifier, with each domino 1.5 times larger in size than the previous domino. Usually dominos are equal in size, but here, a chain reaction can still be achieved with dominoes less than 1.5 times larger than each preceding domino.

In 2009, a world record of the largest toppling dominoes was set in Netherlands using a similar arrangement.

It seems impossible that a light push on a small domino in the domino chain is able to result in such a heavy fall by the last domino that is the size of a building. This is how it works. In a normal domino set up with equal sized dominos, some energy is lost to sound and heat, but the kinetic energy transferred from one domino to the next is approximately equal. In this domino set up, in which each domino is increasingly larger than the preceding domino, kinetic energy increases along the domino chain. Each increasingly large domino holds a larger potential energy because its center of mass is higher and has a larger mass, and thus, the potential energy that is transferred to kinetic energy as the domino topples over is also larger.

In the original experiment with 13 dominoes, in which each domino is 1.5 times larger than the preceding one, the 13th domino is calculated to have 280,000,000 times the energy of the 1st domino.


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