The light bulb icon represents curiosity. For content about raising a curious child, look for this icon.

Build a Chain Reaction Machine

By Margaret Powers and Lisa Glover

Highlights 4Cs

Curious, Creative, Caring, and Confident™
The light bulb icon represents curiosity. For content about raising a curious child, look for this icon.
The paint brush icon represents creativity. For content about raising a creative child, look for this icon.
The holding hands icon represents caring. For content about raising a caring child, look for this icon.
The thumbs up icon represents confidence. For content about raising a confident child, look for this icon.
This kind of contraption is known as a Rube Goldberg machine. Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist who drew very complicated machines to do simple tasks, such as using a napkin or picking up a fork. You can piece together simple machines to make a chain reaction, where one action leads to another.
build a chain reaction machine

Follow these instructions and tips to piece together simple machines that make a chain reaction. What will your machine do? See our instructions below. 

Think about what you want your machine to do. What will its final action be? Here are some examples:  

     a. Catch a ball under a cup. 

     b. Hit a wind chime. 

     c. Crack an egg. 

     d. Close a book. 

Brainstorm ideas for what could cause that final action. For example, a spoon could drop a ball into a cup. Then brainstorm what causes the second-to-last action, and then the one before that. Keep going until you think you’ve created enough workable steps to make it fun. 

Find materials and assemble your machine, action by action. Test it, make improvements or add components, and test it again. You’ll need to keep testing, reworking, and improving until you’re happy with your new contraption. 

Useful Rube Goldberg Materials 

  • Table-tennis balls, golf balls, tennis balls, marbles
  • Toy vehicles 
  • Building toys
  • Dominoes
  • Small fans
  • Small building blocks
  • Small baskets
  • Funnels
  • Recyclables: egg cartons, yogurt containers, tissue boxes, bottle caps, cereal boxes, etc. 

Simple Machine Supplies 

  • Wheels: cardboard tubes, playdough, lids, plastic cups
  • Axles: straws, wooden dowels, toothpicks
  • Incline Planes: wooden blocks, door stops, toy slides, cardboard
  • Levers: binder clips and craft sticks, pencils and rulers 
  • Pulleys: any kind of string with roll of tape, spools, carabiners
  • Adhesives: Tape and glue 

How to Build the Chain Reaction Machine Illustrated Above

1. Start by rolling a golf ball into the row of dominoes. 

2. One domino falls into the next, until all of them have fallen. 

3. The last domino hits the toy car, pushing it down the incline into a tower of blocks. 

4. The falling blocks nudge a roll of masking tape (a wheel) so it starts rolling. 

5. There’s a piece of string tied to the roll of tape. 

6. When the tape rolls off the table, the string acts as a pulley. It lifts the paper airplane, which flies a sign that says Success!