Cause & Effect: What Happens If...

Cause and effect is fundamental in helping us explain how the world works, and helping us understand, predict, and engineer our world. In this new exhibit, created over 4.5 years by staff at Discovery Museum, visitors can tinker with curious contraptions to produce chain reactions and feedback loops, explore social interactions through creative and collaborative play, and enjoy intriguing experiences with no visible causes! 

Cause & Effect: What Happens If...? is a rotating (i.e., not permanent) installation located in the Middlesex Savings Bank Community Gallery. 

a graphic logo that says, "Cause & Effect: What Happens If..."

In this exhibit, you can explore scientific properties including: 

Chain Reactions | Explore linear cause and effect, where one action causes an effect—which might lead to another effect and then another!  Have fun with our Balls & Ramps exhibit, where the action of rolling a ball down a ramp can cause exciting sensory effects with bangs, clangs, dings, and more. 

Invisible Links | Explore magnetic forces with Magnet Spinners and investigate how the different pieces make the others move without touching. Also enjoy Ball & Sand, which will help you discover the wonder of its counterpart, Sisyphus.

Feedback Loops | Did you know that cause and effect doesn’t only happen linearly (one action leads to another action)? Some actions can produce multiple effects, or an effect on the original “cause”! Have fun with Light Loop, Video Feedback and Endless Reflections to explore surprising some effects that you can cause.

Human Interactions | We produce many effects every day when we’re at home, at school, on the playground, and elsewhere. Consider how your words and actions affect your mother, cousin, friend, teacher, or pet as you play with Telling A Story, Cooperative Flight, and Kind Words. Our relationships produce so many positive, and sometimes negative, effects!

In This Exhibit

a young girl stands among several sets of towers and ramps, putting balls into the ramps

Balls & Ramps

Based on the iconic exhibit from the original Children’s Discovery Museum, explore properties of gravity, sound, and motion as you send balls through three levels of towers, ramps, chimes, and more. 

a teen and younger child explore an exhibit that involves cooperation

Cooperative Flight

Explore the effect of teamwork to help our feathered friend fly around or land on the perches. Why is it difficult to do it alone? When have you helped, or been helped by, others to get something done?

a man peers through a window in a wall of a mirrored exhibit

Endless Reflections

Step into the mirror room and observe your reflection—or, reflections! How many of you will you see? What can you see looking in from the outside?

a piece of paper posted to a board says, "be smart be strong be you"

Kind Words

Share a kind word or take a kind word—and experience how it makes you feel! If you left a message for another visitor, what do you hope that person will think about or do?

two children stand at a table full of sand, pouring sand through funnels and into dishes

Sand Pyramid & Sand Tilt

Scoop and pour sand into the funnels and dishes, then change their arrangement and do it again. How do your changes affect how the sand behaves or how the balance moves? 

a young boy stands in front of a tabletop exhibit with a circle of blinking lights

Light Loop

What is the pattern of the blinking lights today? How might you change the pattern of the lights with just one hand? What happens if you use two hands?

a child uses a tabletop exhibit with sand and a lever

Ball & Sand

Slowly move the handle around the sand table…why does the metal ball move as you do it? 

a small boy looks at a glass-topped table filled with a sand design


How is the ball moving through the sand? Does playing with the nearby Ball & Sand exhibit give you a clue to the invisible force?

a young girl stands in front of an exhibit about storytelling

Tell a Story

Does this scene look strange? In Act 1, create a story that tells what has happened in the scene behind the glass. Then in Act 2, use the dolls, doll faces, and toys provided to create the next part of the story or your own unique tale! Tell a friend how your characters feel, and why.

a child plays with a tabletop magnet spinner exhibit

Magnet Spinners

Explore the invisible force of repelling magnets. How are the covered spinners making the other elements, including the compass, move? Compare what happens to the other elements when you turn the spinners fast or slow.

a child uses a suspended camera over a light table

Video Feedback

What do you see on the screen? Is it surprising? How does it change as you move your hand or one of the provided elements under the camera? 

a mother and child sit on a bench near a bookshelf

Book Nook

Learn about even more examples of cause and effect in our world by spending some quality time reading a book from our curated Book Nook.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute for Museum and Library Services

Institute for Museum and Library Services logo