Chain Reaction

A chain reaction is a sequence of reactions where a reactive product or by-product causes additional reactions to take place. In a chain reaction, positive feedback leads to a self-amplifying chain of events.

Chain reactions are one way in which systems which are in thermodynamic non-equilibrium can release energy or increase entropy in order to reach a state of higher entropy. For example, a system may not be able to reach a lower energy state by releasing energy into the environment, because it is hindered in some way from taking the path that will result in the energy release. If a reaction results in a small energy release making way for more energy releases in an expanding chain, then the system will typically collapse explosively until much or all of the stored energy has been released. Since chain reactions result in energy transformation into forms associated with larger amounts of entropy. In accordance with the laws of thermodynamics, these reactions cannot be reversed.

A macrosopic metaphor for chain reactions is thus a snowball causing larger snowfall until finally an avalanche results ("snowball effect"). This is a result of stored gravitational potential energy seeking a path of release over friction. Chemically, the equivalent to a snow avalanche is a spark causing a forest fire. In nuclear physics, a single stray neutron can result in an prompt critical event, which may be finally be energetic enough for a nuclear reactor meltdown or (in a bomb) a nuclear explosion.

Read more about Chain Reaction:  Chemical Chain Reactions, Nuclear Chain Reactions, Electron Avalanche in Gases, Avalanche Breakdown in Semiconductors, Chain Reactions in Economics, Further Examples

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Chain Reaction - Further Examples
... In a chemical reaction, every step of H2 + Cl2 chain reaction consumes one molecule of H2 or Cl2, one free radical H· or Cl· producing one HCl molecule ... Polymerase chain reaction, a technique used in molecular biology to amplify (make many copies of) a piece of DNA by in vitro enzymatic replication using a DNA ...
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    The conclusion suggested by these arguments might be called the paradox of theorizing. It asserts that if the terms and the general principles of a scientific theory serve their purpose, i. e., if they establish the definite connections among observable phenomena, then they can be dispensed with since any chain of laws and interpretive statements establishing such a connection should then be replaceable by a law which directly links observational antecedents to observational consequents.
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