Building Lego Creations for SCIENCE
February 13, 2015 9:32 PM   Subscribe

How scientists are using Lego to manipulate insects. An unusual scientific paper has just appeared online detailing how entomologists can use Legos to build apparatuses to handle museum specimens. This is important: museum specimens are what we use to study biological history, and preserving them is increasingly less well funded. Fortunately, innovations like this fall into a larger biological tradition of building your own equipment.

Entomologists have released a paper detailing how to use Legos to construct a museum specimen manipulator. A purpose built manipulator, by contrast, would cost more than $200--much more expensive than the widely available Lego parts.

Museum specimens are increasingly important for answering questions about climate change, rates of extinction, and historical changes in local biodiversities. At the same time, funding for curators of museum collections is shrinking, which means that digitizing of museum specimens is even more important than it used to be. This device will make both digitization and study of existing specimens easier and more accessible, as well as minimizing damage on the specimens themselves.

This is not the first time that Legos have made an appearance in scientific research. In fact, DIY solutions to laboratory equipment challenges are now increasing in popularity. Of course, it is actually quite common for zoologists to make their own equipment--even the much-maligned "shrimp treadmill" was built by the biologists who worked with it for $50. Most of this is because purpose-built scientific equipment is notoriously expensive. For example, if you want to study mouse activity and need a mouse wheel that records how frequently the mouse uses it and how fast, that'll run you at least $750. Or an operant conditioning box, common in behavioral studies? A ready-made one runs $2800--but it turns out that you can build your own for under $500. Recently, people have even begun to look into 3D printing as a source of scientific equipment building to minimize the cost of purpose-built equipment! With any luck, bringing the costs of equipment necessary to do this work down will let more people have access to the data that these museum specimens represent.
posted by sciatrix (7 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
My son was recently given a shaving brush, but it did not include a stand.
The Internet said it should dry with the bristles facing down.

While he was in the shower, I went down to the LEGO Room and built a little shaving brush stand from LEGO Technic (the same system of LEGO parts used in the article).
When he came out, I showed it to him, and he loudly stated, "Dad, you can't solve every problem with LEGO!"

Then he thanked me, took the brush and stand, and went back in to shave.
posted by LEGO Damashii at 10:43 PM on February 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

I sometimes think that it would be great to work on building madcap data collection devices in collaboration with field research scientists. Raspberry Pi camera traps with range finders, sending text messages back to base to report if they've seen anything interesting today, or whether a grad student needs to hike out to change the batteries.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:23 PM on February 13, 2015

Got capitalisation and pluralisation of LEGO wrong, too annoyed to read it now.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:59 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

prescriptivist heresy
posted by LogicalDash at 3:41 AM on February 14, 2015

LeGoes with anything.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:14 AM on February 14, 2015

LEGO Damashii: "... While he was in the shower, I went down to the LEGO Room and ..."

Wait, wait wait. LEGO Room?
posted by RobotHero at 2:44 PM on February 14, 2015

Wait, wait wait. LEGO Room?

When you have LEGO in your username, you can have a dedicated LEGO room.

Serioulsy, look at the Terms of Service. 45.3(1)A. It's right there!
posted by eriko at 8:27 AM on February 15, 2015

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