Chain Reaction at Tinkerfest

On Saturday we led a giant collaborative chain reaction machine as part of Tinkerfest, a day-long celebration of making and tinkering at Chabot Space and Science Center. There were a bunch of community partners sharing workshops and activities with kids and adults who made the trip up to the oakland hills.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been hitting up thrift stores, the EB depot for creative reuse, and estate sales to build up our supplies of materials for chain reaction. When we arrived, we grouped the tools and materials into different sections around the perimeter of the room.

We set up a snake-like layout of tables with our brand new blue-stained blocks as the input and output between each section. There were about twenty spaces for groups to build their own sections of the chain reaction that each started with the domino falling and knocked a block down to trigger the next table’s contraption.

Tinkerfest was scheduled for the same day as the march for science, so to show support for the protest in the city, we built a special example section with dominoes holding signs supporting science and environmental causes!

The plan was to have two separate set offs of the machine so the first group built the machine from about 10:00 to 1:00. There were a lot of young builders for this session, but we also saw some great interactions between parents and younger kids.

The big upstairs room filled with onlookers for the first set off of the machine. Nicole set up her bowling ball finale and the crowd looked on with anticipation as the machine progressed (with a little help from the magic finger) toward the ping-pong ball tower!

After the big finale, we quickly cleared off the tables and got ready for the afternoon session. There were a few more older builders in this crew who added some more complex mechanisms to the table.

Ideas seemed to quickly move around the room (especially with the sound of popping) a balloon theme emerged. One of the cool things about the chain reaction machine is that although each group builds their own section, there's a strong sense of camaraderie and being part of something larger than yourself.

I loved how several families all worked together on their machines and as a facilitator I could see how each member of the team contributed unique ideas and responded to the feedback of the materials and phenomenon to make elements like balanced pendulums, magnet switches, and wheeled contraptions.

Just like how each table was part of a larger experience, I loved how the tinkerfest event provided so many different entry points to tinkering. There were large scale interactions like a jet engine take apart or a huge cardboard fort construction but also small tables set up where visitors could interact with artists and educators on a more intimate scale.

We’ll be in residence at Chabot for the next month or so and I’m inspired to continue the tinkering explorations and investigations with visitors and staff during our time there!

Ryan Jenkins