Remember the game Mouse Trap? For those of you not familiar with it, Mouse Trap is a board game in which players build a contraption, using various tools and materials, in order to capture a toy mouse on the run. Players often build creative, elaborate traps that operate in various stages, with each distinct stage setting off a another. The game is based on the concept behind Rube-Goldberg machines, devices that perform a very simple task but require an elaborate chain reaction to operate between start and finish. Just like in Rube-Goldberg machines, the value of Mouse Trap is very much in the journey, not the destination.
Now, imagine an even larger version of this game, without the mouse. This is the MIT Museum’s annual Friday After Thanksgiving: Chain Reaction event. Aptly shortened to F.A.T. for the Friday After Thanksgiving, the event is an innovative way to get families out and about after Thursday night’s collective feasting. This year, the Chain Reaction took place at the Rockwell Cage Gymnasium on MIT’s campus and was attended by approximately 2,000 people.
Here’s how it works. Each year, the MIT Museum invites its community to join the event as spectators or participants. Participants and teams build individual sections of a larger chain reaction. The aim is to be as creative as possible, and believe me when I say that participants take this creative license very seriously. Upon strolling around the basketball court-sized area set aside for the entire machine, I spotted everything from action figures, straws, water balloons, Arduino robots, monkey wrenches, bicycle wheels, legos, Daleks, and yes–even mouse traps.
Because the event is open to anybody and everybody, participants every year range from Girl Scout troops to artists and engineers, from MIT clubs to high schools and family teams. Teams have also come from as far away as Michigan and California to contribute. This year, artist/inventor Arthur Ganson and local artist/MIT alumnus Jeff Lieberman both emceed the event.
The F.A.T. Chain Reaction event is not only a creative way to get the family together during the Thanksgiving holiday season, but it’s also an opportunity for kids (ages one to ninety-two) to engage and experiment with the basics of engineering. Who knows? Perhaps participating could set off a chain reaction that results in even more collaborative citizen science in your future.
You can view a live video of the 2012 Chain Reaction below (2013 video forthcoming):
Lily Bui is the Executive Editor of SciStarter and holds dual degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH-TV and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Boston, MA. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.