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I think I have a cool idea, will it work? Answered

I would like to see a scientific 'domino's' event. My idea is that you have a series of containers with different chemical combinations, and they all have entry and exit areas. The containers would have a starting spot, whereby a chemical would be added to the current combination, to cause a spurt to leave the exit point, and enter the next container by the entry point, this would cause another reaction, and the chain would continue to the next container. I'm wondering if the reaction could be continued for 20 containers or more. Obviously an explosion in the chain would break the next container, so each reaction would need to be thought out to produce a spurt. What's more the positioning of each container would need to be perfectly planned according to the power of the reaction. For the container's I'm thinking something like a glass watering can, with chambers inside if needed to produce the right reaction or effect. The entry point would be the filling rea, and the spout would be the exit point. I think it's a cool idea, and I would love to know if it could work.


On a basic level, a living thing can be seen as a chain of chemical reactions. I mention it because there are some interesting chains of events in biological chemistry. You might want to look into the citric-acid cycle and model it in some way. Just a thought.

There are some similarities between a Rube Goldberg machine and metabolism. But the big differences are that metabolism is usually a massively parallel and redundant operation and that it is constantly (or regularly) supplied with energy. A Rube Goldberg machine, on the other hand, is much more fragile and is typically only 'fed' once in its lifetime (i.e. it is initially set up). Now if you had a dozen interlocking Rube Goldberg machines running simultaneously, each one receiving energy input (dropped marbles, added chemical reactants) on a regular basis... that would be impressively lifelike.

Hmmm, ok. Possible idea for a perpetual motion device... I claim intellectual rights if it works. :) Several interlocking Rude Goldberg machines, once the first is set and run it would start the second, the second would run and start the third when finished, 4th, 5th, etc. As many as required to work (assuming possible). As each device ran, it would assist to partially reset the others as it ran. Possibly some kind of low resistance gear linkage, or even spring loaded parts that can work either way as long as the movng object can impart enough momentum. Over the course of the sequence, each device would be reset to work again by the motion and force produce by each succesive machine, using gears, pendulums, whatever may be required to produce the desired effect. (still assuming it is possible ofc). Eventually each device would be reset, and the sequence would start over. (extremely unlikely, but maybe someone can prove my random thought correct?) :)

Notice that I specified constant energy input from outside the machine. To compare it to metabolism: If I seal you in a box, completely cut off from the rest of the world, with a battery powered light, some plants, and a limited amount of food, is this a recipe for perpetual life?

So, with the machine you propose:
Could you get perpetual motion? No.
Could you make people think you had perpetual motion? Very possibly, yes.

That's a great analogy. I love it. The metabolic rube-goldberg machine... hehe. Thanks that will help me next time I have to explain it.

Lemonie mentions a catalyst because you might find a catalyst that can be diluted 20 times and still work, while you will probably not find a reactant capable of that.

An easier alternative is to set up a physical system that can be triggered by a small chemical event:
  • Say you have a bottle that is standing upright but balanced so that it can easily tip over into a depression shaped to fit the fallen bottle.
  • In the bottom of the bottle is vinegar.
  • Inside the bottle, suspended over the vinegar, is a tissue filled with baking soda.
  • A tube runs through the lid of the bottle.
  • The tube contains a piston.

  • You lay the first bottle into its slot.
  • Once horizontal, the vinegar soaks though the tissue.
  • The baking soda and vinegar react.
  • The resulting pressure pushes the piston out of the tube,
  • while the depression prevents the bottle from sliding in the opposite direction.
  • The piston tips over the next bottle.

If you need further inspiration, try watching some Rube Goldberg competitions and Pitagora Suichi.

I like the idea of involving pistons and glass containers or plastic would show the reactions but glass would require more control of the resulting effect. Thanks for the links too.

How about this variation:
  • Set up a long track with a cylindrical groove down the middle.
  • Make a tube (similar to what I described above) that becomes a rocket when it is jostled. (Perhaps a pin pokes a hole in a plastic bag of vinegar?)
  • Set many of these tubes end-to-end in the track.

  • Tap the first tube to activate it.
  • That tube sprays liquid and gas out the back and travels forward.
  • It strikes the next tube, activating it.

Energy tends to go downhill. If you had energetic solutions in the containers and used the out put for catalysis you might get it to work. 20 is pushing it a bit though.