How to prepare a mousetrap fission demonstration

The Harvard Natural Sciences Lecture Demonstrations and Snow Removal Team is seen, in this video, preparing a classic mousetrap-as-analog demonstration of how nuclear fission proceeds.

Their written explanation includes these comments:

We’ve got the set-up time down to 15 minutes, and like all nuclear devices, you only get one shot at this one.

The mouse trap chain reaction originated (we think) from Walt Disney’s 1950s film “Our Friend the Atom.”

J. Higbie (see Reference) has described a “better” mousetrap nuclear chain reaction but we prefer the old fashioned way. Setting up the last few traps while the students await the lecture to begin, dripping brow and shaking hands, certainly adds some drama. We think Enrico Fermi would agree.

Reference: J. Higbie: Am. J. Phys. 48 (1), 62 (1980)

1 Mouse traps are 10cm × 5cm in size, manufactured by Woodstream Corp., Lititz, PA or d-Con Corp., Montvale, NJ. Both are available in hardware stores.

Here is “Our Friend the Atom”:

(Thanks to Bob Kirshner for alerting us to this.)

NOTE: The idea may have originated ten years before the Disney film (which was released, on television, in 1957). See this paper, if you can get a copy of it:

Richard M. Sutton, A Mousetrap Atomic Bomb, AJP 15, 427-428, (1947)