chain reaction


  1. Physics. a self-sustaining reaction in which the fission of nuclei of one generation of nuclei produces particles that cause the fission of at least an equal number of nuclei of the succeeding generation.
  2. Chemistry. a reaction that results in a product necessary for the continuance of the reaction.
  3. a series of events in which each event is the result of the one preceding and the cause of the one following.


  1. a process in which a neutron colliding with an atomic nucleus causes fission and the ejection of one or more other neutrons, which induce other nuclei to split
  2. a chemical reaction in which the product of one step is a reactant in the following step
  3. a series of rapidly occurring events, each of which precipitates the next


  1. A series of events in which each induces or influences the next.
  2. A series of chemical reactions in which one product of a reacting set is a reactant in the following set.
  3. A multistage nuclear reaction, especially a self-sustaining series of fissions in which the release of neutrons from the splitting of one atom leads to the splitting of others.

  1. A process in which the result of one event triggers another event, usually of the same kind, which in turn triggers yet another event, so that the overall reaction tends to be self-sustaining. Nuclear fission reactions are chain reactions, in which the splitting of an atomic nucleus releases neutrons that penetrate other nuclei, causing them to split. The spread of heat through a substance is also a chain reaction, as fast-moving molecules in a hot part of the substance collide with neighboring molecules, passing on their kinetic energy to them, thereby making more of the substance warmer. See more at fission. See Note at nuclear reactor. See also kinetic theory.

In chemistry and physics, a self-sustaining series of reactions. In a chain reaction in a uranium-based nuclear reactor, for example, a single neutron causes the nucleus of a uranium atom to undergo fission. In the process, two or three more neutrons are released. These neutrons start more fissions, which produce more neutrons, and so on.

A series of events in which each influences or gives rise to the next event, as in If one person collects substantial damages by suing a company, you can expect a chain reaction of such lawsuits. The term originated in the physical sciences, first (1920s) chemistry and later (1940) physics; in the latter it denotes a process of nuclear fission. By the 1940s it had been transferred to more general use.

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