When it comes to inspiring a lifelong appreciation of science, few experiences are as powerful as that first glimpse of the world swimming in a drop of pond water as seen through a decent microscope. But sadly, access to a microscope is hardly universal, denying that life-changing view of the world to far too many people.
There have been plenty of attempts to fix this problem before, but we’re intrigued to see Legos used to build a usable microscope, primarily for STEM outreach. It’s the subject of a scholarly paper (preprint) by [Bart E.Vos], [Emil BetzBlesa], and [TimoBetz]. The build almost exclusively uses Lego parts — pretty common ones at that — and there’s a complete list of the parts needed, which can either be sourced from online suppliers, who will kit up the parts for you, or by digging through the old Lego bin. Even the illuminator is a stock part, although you’ll likely want to replace the orange LED buried within with a white one. The only major non-Lego parts are the lenses, which can either be sourced online or, for the high-power objective, pulled from an old iPhone camera. The really slick part is the build instructions (PDF), which are formatted exactly like the manual from any Lego kit, making the build process easily accessible to anyone who has built Lego before.
As for results, they’re really not bad. Images of typical samples, like salt crystal, red onion cells, and water fleas are remarkably clear and detailed. It might no be a lab-grade Lego microscope, but it looks like it’s more than up to its intended use.
The testing setup is simple. A small vehicle is fitted with a particular set of Lego wheels or tracks. Then, it’s placed on an inclined wooden board. The angle of inclination is then increased until the vehicle neither climbs the board nor slips down it. This angle can then be used to calculate the coefficient of friction of the given tyre or track set. [Brick Experiment Channel] filmed this testing and collected data on 33 different wheel and track combinations, publishing it in the description of the Youtube video.
Interestingly, the date of release of the various parts is recorded with the data. This is interesting as one would expect older rubber parts to lose grip with age, however, the release date of the parts obviously does not correspond with the manufacturing date, so the utility of this is somewhat unclear. There’s also some surprising results, with what appear to be soft, flat and smooth rubber wheels performing somewhat worse than those with curved profiles that you’d expect to have less contact patch. Regardless, it’s the best data we’ve ever seen in this field and we think it’s great that it was collected and shared with the broader Lego community. We look forward to seeing more of this in future, as it’s obviously something of great use to builders. We can imagine it would have proved handy when [Brick Experiment Channel] built their obstacle climbing rover. Video after the break.
Photography doesn’t have to be expensive, something that’s especially true in the realm of film photography, where the imperfections of the medium can be half the appeal. There are many DIY plans and kits available for analog cameras, but [bhiga143] had couple spare components and a pile of small, colorful bricks lying around, so he decided to build a functional 4×5″ film camera out of Lego.
Details are light for this build, but with a little knowledge about camera structure we can guess at what’s going on inside. Simplicity makes for robust design, and what we have here is in effect a box with a lens on one side and photographic film on the other. The center section of the front, which actually supports the lens, is capable of sliding in and out to adjust focus. On the far side (not pictured) is a slot just wide enough to insert a standard film holder.
The camera really is a hack. [bhiga143] stayed true to the “Lego” part of Lego camera, so there is no glue, no black paper lining, and no frills. The tripod is whatever stack of books lay underneath it. The lens is, quote, “barely functional”. There are light leaks galore, and it can’t focus beyond about 3 feet (1 meter). But every one of those points just makes us love it more. Every nugget of imperfection is a few words added to the story each picture tells. And we honestly can’t wait to see more pictures.
Retired scientist [Mark Howe] spent the last couple months making an animatronic movie featuring his LEGO lunar lander in a video recreation of the Apollo 11 moon landing (also embedded below). [Mark] is not only the producer, but serves as the technical director, set designer, and cameraman as well. He designed and 3D-printed a custom special effects stage for the scene. It gives motion to the LEM using stepper motors, timing belts, pulleys, and a linear guide rod, all hidden inside a discrete upstage tower. He simulates the Lunar regolith using grout, spray adhesive, and a smattering of small rocks.
[Mark] implements the special effects sequencer in an Arduino Nano, and provides sound effects using an Adafruit audio sound board which he loaded up with sound files from the real Apollo 11 landing. Floor strip lighting is provided by an array of Neopixels, and a back-lit Earth is lowered from the fly space for one cut. He made a custom PCB motherboard to hold the Arduino, sound card and motor drivers.
The resulting production is quite impressive. This isn’t [Mark]’s first attempt to relieve the double boredom of both retirement and coronavirus isolation — back in December he produced a similar animatronic movie recreating a Saturn V launch. Thanks to [jhookie55] for the tip.
The build consists of a Lego motor driving the transmission’s input shaft, upon which a cone is mounted. A similar cone is mounted on the output shaft, and a rubber belt stretched between the two. With the cones mounted in opposing directions, the gear ratio can be continually varied by changing where upon the cones the belt rides. By riding on the small diameter section of the input cone, the belt correspondingly rides on the large diameter section of the output cone, leading to a slower, high torque output. By sliding the belt to the other end of the cone, the ratios are reversed, leading to high output speed with less torque.
The demonstration works somewhat differently than modern automotive models, but the basic concept is the same. It’s also limited in its torque transfer ability by the coefficient of friction of the plastic Lego parts. Despite this, it’s a quick way to illustrate the mechanisms at play, and where some of the common losses are in such a system. If you prefer your gearboxes of a more classic sequential design, we’ve seen those too, of course. Video after the break.
If engineering choices a hundred years ago had been only slightly different, we could have ended up in a world full of steam engines rather than internal combustion engines. For now, though, steam engines are limited to a few niche applications and, of course, models built by enthusiasts. This one for example is built entirely in LEGO as a scale replica of a steam engine originally produced in 1907.
The model is based on a 2500 horsepower triple-expansion four-cylinder engine that was actually in use during the first half of the 20th century. Since the model is built using nothing but LEGO (and a few rubber bands) it operates using a vacuum rather than with working steam, but the principle is essentially the same. It also includes Corliss valves, a technology from c.1850 that used rotating valves and improved steam engine efficiency dramatically for the time.
This build is an impressive recreation of the original machine, and can even run at extremely slow speeds thanks to a working valve on the top, allowing its operation to be viewed in detail. Maximum speed is about 80 rpm, very close to the original machine’s 68 rpm operational speed. If you’d prefer your steam engines to have real-world applications, though, make sure to check out this steam-powered lawnmower.
The little Lego rover starts as a simple four-wheeled rover trying to climb on top of a book. Swap in a four-wheel-drive gearbox and grippy tires, and it clears the first obstacle. Add a few books to the stack causes the break-over angle to become an issue, so the rover gets an inverted-V chassis. As the obstacle height increases, batteries are moved around for better weight distribution, but the real improvement comes when an actuating middle joint is added, turning it into a wheeled inchworm. Clearing overhangs suspended beams, and gaps are all just a matter of finding the right technique.
Thanks to Lego’s modularity, all this is possible in an hour or two where a 3D printer and CAD might have stretched it into days. This robot does have the limitation of not being able to turn. Conventional car steering or Mecanum wheels are two options, but how would you do it?