Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Lego


Although television, computer games and the Internet play an important role in the lives of children they still also play with physical toys, such as dolls, cars and LEGO bricks. The LEGO company has become the world’s largest toy manufacturer. Our study investigates if the LEGO company’s products have become more violent over time. First, we analyzed the frequency of weapon bricks in LEGO sets. Their use has significantly increased. Second, we empirically investigated the perceived violence in the LEGO product catalogs from the years 1978-2014. Our results show that the violence of the depicted products has increased significantly over time. The LEGO Company’s products are not as innocent as they used to be.

Concepts: Violence, Play, Game, Toy, Lego, Doll, Mattel


Liquid-handling robots have many applications for biotechnology and the life sciences, with increasing impact on everyday life. While playful robotics such as Lego Mindstorms significantly support education initiatives in mechatronics and programming, equivalent connections to the life sciences do not currently exist. To close this gap, we developed Lego-based pipetting robots that reliably handle liquid volumes from 1 ml down to the sub-μl range and that operate on standard laboratory plasticware, such as cuvettes and multiwell plates. These robots can support a range of science and chemistry experiments for education and even research. Using standard, low-cost household consumables, programming pipetting routines, and modifying robot designs, we enabled a rich activity space. We successfully tested these activities in afterschool settings with elementary, middle, and high school students. The simplest robot can be directly built from the widely used Lego Education EV3 core set alone, and this publication includes building and experiment instructions to set the stage for dissemination and further development in education and research.

Concepts: Chemistry, Science, Experiment, Robot, Lego Mindstorms, Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0, Lego, Seymour Papert


About 200 second-hand plastic toys sourced in the UK have been analysed by x-ray fluorescence spectrometry for hazardous elements (As, Ba, Cd, Cr, Hg, Pb, Sb, Se) and Br as a proxy for brominated flame retardants. Each element was detected in > 20 toys or components thereof with the exception of As, Hg and Se, with the frequent occurrence of Br, Cd and Pb and at maximum concentrations of about 16,000, 20,000 and 5000 μg g-1, respectively, of greatest concern from a potential exposure perspective. Migration was evaluated on components of 26 toys under simulated stomach conditions (0.07 M HCl) with subsequent analysis by inductively coupled plasma spectrometry. In eight cases, Cd or Pb exceeded their migration limits as stipulated by the current EU Toy Safety Directive (17 and 23 μμ g-1, respectively), with Cd released from yellow and red Lego bricks exceeding its limit by an order of magnitude. Two further cases were potentially non-compliant based on migratable Cr, with one item also containing > 250 μg g-1 migratable Br. While there is no retroactive regulation on second-hand toys, consumers should be aware that old, mouthable, plastic items may present a source of hazardous element exposure to infants.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, X-ray fluorescence, Chemistry, Flame retardant, Plasma, Brominated flame retardant, Toy, Lego


LEGO bricks are commercially available interlocking pieces of plastic that are conventionally used as toys. We describe their use to build engineered environments for cm-scale biological systems, in particular plant roots. Specifically, we take advantage of the unique modularity of these building blocks to create inexpensive, transparent, reconfigurable, and highly scalable environments for plant growth in which structural obstacles and chemical gradients can be precisely engineered to mimic soil.

Concepts: Species, Plant, Botany, Tree, Root, Toy, Civil engineering, Lego


The LEGO Group has become the largest toy company in the world and they can look back to a proud history of more than 50 years of producing bricks and other toys. Starting with a simple set of basic bricks their range of toys appeared to have increased in complexity over the years. We processed the inventories of most sets from 1955-2015 and our analysis showed that LEGO sets have become bigger, more colorful and more specialized. The vocabulary of bricks has increased significantly resulting in sets sharing fewer bricks. The increased complexity of LEGO sets and bricks enables skilled builders to design ever more amazing models but it may also overwhelm less skilled or younger builders.

Concepts: Toy, Lego, Lego Group, Legoland Windsor, Billund, Denmark, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, Ole Kirk Christiansen


Proteins, similarly to other biomolecules, have a modular and hierarchical structure. Various building blocks serve to construct proteins of high structural complexity and diverse functionality. In multi-domain proteins, for example, domains are fused to each other in different combinations to achieve different functions. Although the LEGO bricks metaphor is justified as a means of simplifying the complexity of 3-dimensional protein structures, several fundamental properties (such as allostery or the induced-fit mechanism) make deviation from it necessary to respect the plasticity, softness, and cross-talks that are essential to protein function. In this opinion, we illustrate recently reported protein behavior in multi-domain proteins that deviates from the LEGO brick analogy. While earlier studies showed that a protein domain is often unaffected by fusing to another domain or becomes more stable following the formation of a new interface between the tethered domains, destabilization due to tethering has been reported for several systems. We illustrate that tethering may sometimes result in a multi-domain protein behaving as ‘less than the sum of its parts’. We survey these cases for which structure additivity does not guarantee thermodynamic additivity. Protein destabilization due to fusion to other domains may be linked in some cases to biological function and should be taken into account when designing large assemblies.

Concepts: Protein structure, Enzyme, Function, Structure, Protein folding, Hierarchy, Titin, Lego


Software for computer animation is generally characterized by a steep learning curve, due to the entanglement of both sophisticated techniques and interaction methods required to control 3D geometries. This paper proposes a tool designed to support computer animation production processes by leveraging the affordances offered by articulated tangible user interfaces and motion capture retargeting solutions. To this aim, orientations of an instrumented prop are recorded together with animator’s motion in the 3D space and used to quickly pose characters in the virtual environment. High-level functionalities of the animation software are made accessible via a speech interface, thus letting the user control the animation pipeline via voice commands while focusing on his or her hands and body motion. The proposed solution exploits both off-the-shelf hardware components (like the Lego Mindstorms EV3 bricks and the Microsoft Kinect, used for building the tangible device and tracking animator’s skeleton) and free open-source software (like the Blender animation tool), thus representing an interesting solution also for beginners approaching the world of digital animation for the first time. Experimental results in different usage scenarios show the benefits offered by the designed interaction strategy with respect to a mouse & keyboard-based interface both for expert and non-expert users.

Concepts: Computer graphics, Computer, 3D computer graphics, Motion capture, User interface, Animation, Computer animation, Lego


A facile and green mechanosynthesis strategy free of solvent and high reaction temperature was developed to fabricate highly emissive cesium lead halide perovskite (CsPbX3) quantum dots (QDs). Their composition can be adjusted conveniently simply through mechanically milling/grinding stoichiometric combinations of raw reagents, thereby introducing a broad luminescence tunability of the product with adjustable wavelength, line width, and photoluminescence quantum yield. Desired CsPbX3 QDs “library” can thus be readily constructed in a way like assembling Lego building blocks. Hence, the method offered new avenues in the preparation of multicomponent cocrystals, adding one appealing apparatus to the tool box of perovskite-type QDs synthesis. Intriguingly, photoinduced dynamic study revealed the hole-transfer process of the as-prepared QDs toward electron donors, indicative of their potential in charge-transfer-based applications such as light-harvesting devices and photocatalysis.

Concepts: Quantum mechanics, Chemical reaction, Light, Method acting, Atom, Luminescence, Yield, Lego


This paper presents the employment of LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics as core component of low cost multidisciplinary platform for assisting elderly and visually impaired people. LEGO Mindstorms system offers a plug-and-play programmable robotics toolkit, incorporating construction guides, microcontrollers and sensors, all connected via a comprehensive programming language. It facilitates, without special training and at low cost, the use of such device for interpersonal communication and for handling multiple tasks required for elderly and visually impaired people in-need. The research project provides a model for larger-scale implementation, tackling the issues of creating additional functions in order to assist people in-need. The new functions were built and programmed using MATLAB through a user friendly Graphical User Interface (GUI). Power consumption problem, besides the integration of WiFi connection has been resolved, incorporating GPS application on smart phones enhanced the guiding and tracking functions. We believe that developing and expanding the system to encompass a range of applications beyond the initial design schematics to ease conducting a limited number of pre-described protocols. However, the beneficiaries for the proposed research would be limited to elderly people who require assistance within their household as assistive-robot to facilitate a low-cost solution for a highly demanding health circumstance.

Concepts: Bluetooth, Graphical user interface, Lego Mindstorms NXT, Lego Mindstorms, Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0, FIRST Lego League, Not eXactly C, Lego


A microfluidic component library for building systems driving parallel or serial microfluidic-based assays is presented. The components are a miniaturized eight-channel peristaltic pump, an eight-channel valve, sample-to-waste liquid management, and interconnections. The library of components was tested by constructing various systems supporting perfusion cell culture, automated DNA hybridizations, and in situ hybridizations. The results showed that the MainSTREAM components provided (1) a rapid, robust, and simple method to establish numerous fluidic inputs and outputs to various types of reaction chips; (2) highly parallel pumping and routing/valving capability; (3) methods to interface pumps and chip-to-liquid management systems; (4) means to construct a portable system; (5) reconfigurability/flexibility in system design; (6) means to interface to microscopes; and (7) compatibility with tested biological methods. It was found that LEGO Mindstorms motors, controllers, and software were robust, inexpensive, and an accessible choice as compared with corresponding custom-made actuators. MainSTREAM systems could operate continuously for weeks without leaks, contamination, or system failures. In conclusion, the MainSTREAM components described here meet many of the demands on components for constructing and using microfluidics systems.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Pump, Microfluidics, Object-oriented programming, Construction, Fluidics, Lego Mindstorms, Lego