Team seeks chain reaction machine record in Detroit

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit— A team of domino and engineering enthusiasts at the Michigan Science Center hopes to topple the world record for largest chain reaction machine.

The “Zeal Credit Union’s Incredible Science Machine” involves more than a half a million objects, including more than 200,000 dominoes, organizers say. It is expected to take approximately 30 minutes to complete once it is activated at 3 p.m. Saturday in the science center’s fourth-floor traveling exhibit hall.

The previous record-holder featured 300 steps in about 2 minutes, organizers said.

“We want to create incredible things to share with a wider audience,” said Steve Price, a 21-year-old Canton Township native and engineering student at Michigan State University. Price spearheaded the project, bringing together a team of 15 other builders he met through YouTube.

“We’re very happy with the fact that we got this opportunity to get together for the first time and build something,” Price said. “There aren’t many opportunities for people who are in this hobby, so we wanted to create our own with this event.”

It was a natural fit for the science center to host the project, president and CEO Tonya Matthews said.

“We are actually about creating new pathways into science, technology, engineering and math,” she said. “That is one of the reasons that we are really excited about the machine, because we need different ways for different people to understand the way STEM works in our world.”

The builders range in age from 11 to 50 years old and hail from all corners of the country and abroad, with one member visiting from Austria.

The machine-in-progress already was coming to life Thursday morning during a media preview. Builders walked calmly among towering domino structures built with the help of an Excel program that provides the number — and colors — needed to complete each design. The machine was built on a $10,000 temporary floor after builders discovered the room’s thin carpeting created too much friction, organizers said. Directly downstairs, the IMAX theater’s volume was lowered three times to cut down on vibrations in the floor.

In one corner of the room, a larger-than-life, colorful portrait of Isaac Newton was constructed from around 11,000 dominoes. Several yards away, a couple of tables held a variety of contraptions combining levers, pulleys, tracks and strings.

On the other side of the room, around 5,000 dominoes were stacked to form a giant, three-dimensional red car. It took builder Lily Hevesh around eight hours to construct, she said.

Hevesh, 16, said she and Price decided to shoot for a world record around three years ago. The pair had never met in person, but connected on YouTube through their common passion for dominoes.

“When I was really young, maybe around 9 or 10, my grandparents had a set of 28 dominoes, and I just used to set them up for fun because I liked to watch them fall down,” she said. She then searched online for videos of others building much larger structures involving thousands of tiles.

“That completely amazed me. I had no idea you could do any of this,” said Hevesh of New Hampshire.

Other builders told similar stories of starting small. Marcel Pürrer, 19, said his passion grew from a casual pastime with his cousin. The two started building with a handful of dominoes, gradually adding more with each creation.

“After some years, there wasn’t enough space in my house,” said Pürrer, the team’s sole international member.

Many of the builders are veterans of the domino building community, holding world records of their own and hosting YouTube channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Two members, Price and 50-year-old Tim Fort of St. Paul, Minnesota, have appeared on “America’s Got Talent” to showcase their skills.

Fort, the oldest member, said the team is excited — but also nervous — for Saturday’s reveal.

“These things, they’re always nerve-racking,” he said. “Until they work.”

Witness the chain reaction

The “Zeal Credit Union’s Incredible Science Machine” will be activated at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Michigan Science Center’s fourth-floor traveling exhibit room. VIP tickets to watch in person are sold out, but the science center will livestream the event at its Chrysler Science Stage beginning at 2 p.m. The live stream also will be posted online at

Chain reaction workshops will be available at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Michigan Science Center, 5020 John R Street, Detroit

General admission is $14 for adults, $11 for children and free for members.