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Domino Toppling: Art and Science at St. Louis School

Howard County's own Scott Suko has been toppling dominoes for decades. He'll share the fun, the beauty and the science with students at St. Louis School's family STEM night.

Scott Suko doesn’t see domino toppling as a sport. Then again, he said, it’s not a game. 

Painstakingly setting up hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dominoes in precise, complex patterns, and then, with one swift movement, setting off a chain reaction that will result in all of the dominoes eventually falling over—“It’s more of an art form,” the Howard County resident said.

He’ll be demonstrating the art of toppling Tuesday night at St. Louis School for the school’s first family STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) night.

Toppling is “entertaining to watch and beautiful," Suko said, "but it takes a lot of math and physics to get this to happen.”

The “entertaining” part keeps the kids' (and adults') attention. 

See for yourself. Type “domino toppling” into YouTube and sit back as one video turns into five and all of a sudden—you’ve sat through a half hour of whirring dominoes, racing along floors, climbing up stairs and spilling to the ground as domino towers are collapsed.

But it's the “math and physics” part that explains Suko’s appearance at STEM night. Potential and kinetic energy, unstable equilibrium, velocity—it’s all there in the dominoes. 

An engineer at Northrop Grumman by day, Suko has been setting up dominoes to knock them down since the early 1970s when, as a high school student, he and a friend worked as crew members at a Hemophilia Society fundraiser. They were hooked.

Suko and his friend “Domino” Dan Beckerleg went on to work on the team that created the Around the World Domino Topple for Coca Cola’s centennial celebration. 

For that feat, hundreds of thousands of dominoes were toppled in six cities around the world, Suko said. When one city’s topple was complete, it sent a signal to the next city to begin toppling its dominoes. 

That same year, Suko also worked on a commercial with Domino’s Pizza

These days, Suko said, “I don’t really have time to pursue this as a side career like I used to.” Occasionally, however, he still brings the excitement of one of his intricate domino topples to the public. In addition to the St. Louis STEM night, Suko said he will return to the Maryland Science Center in April for Domino Days, when thousands of dominoes will fall throughout the center.

Suko said he imparts more than science knowledge when he shares the art of toppling with students. Before his big demonstration, he lets them set up their own topples, which they weave into his. This way, the kids get to feel the rush of watching something they’ve built whiz by, just they way they planned it.

“It’s a little bit nerve-racking,” Suko said. “Once you’ve invested time in it, you want to make everything work. You don’t want to kick the domino over before the show starts,” which, he said, he’s done.

“When you design something with dominoes and it’s very complicated”—stunts, going up stairs, falling into things—“and it goes off just as planned, and you get to that last domino … it’s such a good feeling," Suko said.

“It's an adrenaline rush.”

Watch Suko demonstrate the art of toppling on the Martha Stewart Show.

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