Schlichting: The physics of perfect dominoes

The stones used in the game of dominoes made a career in a completely different way many years ago. They are no longer placed next to each other according to rules, but are placed on edge in a row that is as long as possible. The skilful arranging ends in letting the first stone fall against the second. This triggers a tipping wave that runs through the entire system in a chain reaction. The energy to power the spectacle comes from the high-altitude energy of the dominoes.

Before the start, each stone is in a stable balance. Its center of gravity is vertically above the supporting surface, and the domino possesses height energy corresponding to its size. Inevitably, in order to tip it over its edge, the center of gravity must first be raised a little before the stone falls. The energy from the altitude is then converted into kinetic energy. This is partially transferred when it hits the next stone placed and knocks it over, causing the next but one in the row to be knocked over and so on. One goal is to trigger the fastest possible wave by placing the dominoes appropriately. As a rule, it is tacitly assumed that the friction with the ground is so great that the stones do not slip on it. This is usually guaranteed with the usual substrates.

Amazing physics hides behind numerous everyday things. felt for many years Hans Joachim Schlichting investigates these phenomena and explains them in his column to the readership of »Scientific Spectrum«. Schlichting is a professor of physics didactics and worked at the University of Münster until he retired.

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But it can also be different. This shows, for example, a video recorded with a high-speed camera by YouTuber Destin Sandlin. The experiments documented on his SmarterEveryDay channel have inspired David Cantor from the Polytechnique Montréal and Kajetan Wojtacki from the Research Institute for Basic Technology at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw to investigate further. With the help of computer simulations the two physicists brought down chains of up to 200 dominoes. They varied the distance between the stones and the frictional forces with the ground and with each other.

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