How I play with Lego grown up

Research Institute by Lego

Research Institute by Lego

Last month the company Lego released their Research Institute set (conceived by geoscientist Ellen Kooijman to promote science careers for women). The set features a woman chemist, a woman astronomer, and a woman archaeologist. The set sold out on the first day (online and in-store).  I managed to pick up a set though to support the message of promoting women in sciences. The set is challenging and fun. However, I wish they would have included a woman fire engineer in the set (they did propose to include an electrical engineer in the concept stage of the set and arguably the chemist could be considered a chemical engineer). However,  I can modify and create. Maybe I will re-create a scene where one of my favorite engineers of all time, Margaret Law, performs fire experiments as she did in the 1960s at the Fire Research Station (future blog entry).

Vintage fire hall by Lego

Vintage fire hall by Lego

I find there are a lot of engineers and architects I come across (men and women) who are embracing Lego sets these days. Quite often when I go into offices, I always see the  Lego Architecture sets displayed on the book shelf’s of my colleagues.  These sets are great for stress relief after a hectic day. They are great to ponder things over. And they are visibly pleasing in the corner of an office. These sets are no longer merely childern’s toys, but something educational for all ages. I take things further though. Recently I purchased the 2200 plus piece vintage fire hall set (naturally – vintage and fire) and began assembling it (pictured) . As a scientist, I question;  ‘What makes my Lego fit together so well?’ So a while back I decided to investigate just that using a Scanning Electron Microscope.  You may remember this from a previous blog where I challenged the reader to identify several materials (concrete, a steel and a plastic- the ‘plastic’ being lego) as mystery Scanning Electron Microscope images. For the Lego, I wanted to measure out the precision of a Lego piece to the micro-metre and get an idea just how snug they connect (pictured below) and what was going on at the microscopic level of these tiny interlocking bricks.

Mystery #2

Lego at 800 x

Lego at 57x. The gray scale is typical of unprocessed SEM imaging

Lego at 57 x

The lettering was most interesting (the letter E is blown up and pictured left). But in general the indents on the piece were precise to the micro-metre. I have been told that the tolerance of Lego is actually up to 2 microns.

Now things I wonder next. Could having too many Lego in a home be a fuel load hazard for a fire?  Giving that Lego is said to be made of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (anything with sytrene can be nasty toxicity wise when heated) I think I would rather avoid doing any high temperature tests for now. Instead, I could look into the compressive strength of Lego answering how tall can I make lego….but that has been done.

I guess some toys we never grow out of….

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