How Dominoes Are Used As a Model

Many people enjoy playing games with domino, a set of small rectangular blocks, each marked with an arrangement of spots or dots that resemble those on dice. These dominoes can be arranged in a variety of ways, including straight or curved lines or stacked walls, to create intricate designs that fall when tapped. They can be used for scoring or blocking games, and some are even crafted to form pictures or 3D structures when a chain reaction occurs.

Physicist Stephen Morris at the University of Toronto explains that when a domino is standing upright, it has potential energy (amount of stored energy based on its position). When a player flicks the first domino toppling it over, the energy in the remaining dominoes is converted from potential to kinetic energy as they move toward their new position, propelling the next domino into motion. The resulting chain reaction continues as each domino topples over the one before it.

Dominoes can also serve as a model for understanding how nerve cells, or neurons, function. In an experiment with a single domino, researchers observed that when the first domino falls, it triggers a pulse of electrical signals that travels down a line of dominoes like a firing neuron in your body. The signal moves at a consistent speed, does not lose energy along the way and travels only in one direction.

This principle is useful in a number of fields, from biology to computer science. For example, the algorithm that determines the sequence of numbers in a computer number system is based on the same principles as a domino chain. Another application of the domino model is in computer programming, where it can be useful in modeling how a piece of code executed by a microprocessor or other hardware unit may influence other programs running on the same machine.

Lily Hevesh started collecting dominoes when she was 9 years old, inherited a classic 28-piece set from her grandparents and began posting videos of her projects online. She has now grown to become a professional domino artist who creates spectacular setups for movies, TV shows and events—including a recent album launch by Katy Perry.

When we play domino, we use our imagination to create a story and then watch a chain reaction unfold as the first domino is tipped over. This is a valuable lesson for writers, who should think of each plot beat in their manuscript as a domino that can be triggered by an event or question in the novel and then ripple through to the end. Thinking of each domino in this way can help authors answer the question “What happens next?” and construct a story that will keep readers engaged.