Point of Criticality

by Juanita Miller

Like a child's sand castle, seeds rain down onto a mound that grows until it can't grow any more. A complex balancing act keeps the mound stable until it reaches the "point of criticality"-the point at which the system "fails," creating avalanches that change the mound's shape. Scoop through the mound to make your own avalanches, or watch the system rise and fall on its own. Each avalanche relieves pressure on the pile, allowing it to begin growing again. Similar patterns of alternating growth and failure show up in many complex systems, from the stock market to people's emotional stability.

audio tour for the Point of Criticality exhibit...

Exhibits || CompLexicon || Timeline

The Exploratorium, 1996