Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Atomic structure

Homeschooler Susan Evans came up with LEGO atomic structure to teach chemistry to kids. The red bricks are protons, the black ones are neutrons, and the blue bricks are electrons (note how they are divided up into energy levels). These represent, respectively, neutral oxygen and neon atoms.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Impossible waterfall

A couple of years ago when that big LEGO Architecture Studio set came out Tom Alphin decided to create a 30 day challenge for himself and his readers. Day 12's challenge was to Build and photograph an impossible Escher model out of Lego. He came up with a LEGO rendition of Escher's Waterfall, a scene that others have also tried.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Light and sound can be described as waves traveling through some medium. A simple wave can take an easily described form such as a sine function, but if you put a bunch of waves together, such as a burst of many wavelengths of light or a musical chord, the waves add together in constructive and destructive ways to get a much more complex waveform, such as this shown by Matt De Lanoy. I wonder if you can perform a fourier transform on a stack of LEGO elements.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Lab competition

Seen via Brickset: Chemistry lab equipment manufacturer Radleys is holding a Build a Lego Lab contest! Read the article for full rules and details, but here are the highlights:
-Your lab could be either realistic or fantasy based (e.g. they suggest ideas including Marie Curie's experiments with uranium, or a Frankestein's monster setup)
-Adult and kid categories
-International competition, so you don't have to be in the UK to compete
-Winners will get a gift certificate to a LEGO Store or Lego.com
Let me know if you enter, and I'll feature your MOC here as well. I fully expect a SciBricks reader to win this.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Ames room

Kai NRG/Geneva built an Ames room. This is an optical illusion where the room is distorted, but your mind assumes that it is actually square, and so objects on one side look much smaller relative to the ceiling, but objects on the other side look much larger. In a true Ames room, the left-hand side of this scene should be much further from the viewer, which leads to a more perfect illusion because both the effect of distance and the trapezoidal shape of the room add to the effect.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Illusive Hobbit Diner

The illusive Hobbit Diner by Letranger Absurde is an example of the 'cafe wall illusion', where the pattern of white and black blocks makes straight lines look crooked. I previously explained how this illusion works. BTW, for me the illusion works better in the scene with a bare floor as for me the various details tend to distract the eye and break the illusion.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Okay, I know you were begging for more New Horizons ...

... so here you go, this one by Stefan Schindler.

BTW, as long as we're here, I know this isn't LEGO but I just had to share this from Gary Davis. "So that's why the planet was called Pluto!"

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Apollo 11

Saabfan celebrated the Apollo 11 mission 46 years ago (tomorrow is the anniversary of their return to earth) in LEGO form.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

New Horizons

Yesterday, the New Horizons probe was the first ever* probe to pass by the planet** Pluto, sending back photos and other data about our distant cousin. No word yet if they found a giant cartoon dog. In commemoration of this event, Iain Heath built a LEGO rendition.

*First human-built, that is. I'm not making any claims about alien probes coming from the opposite direction.
**I know, I know, I should say dwarf planet, but when I was a kid our solar system had nine planets, and that's how it's always going to be for me.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Materials Science and Engineering

Okay, that big rant yesterday was originally going to be the lead-in to this post, but I didn't want to taint this nice MOC with my grumpyness. Brick Lab designed this great Materials Science and Engineering instrumentation. The setup includes a scanning electron microscope, a transmission electron microscope, and an X-ray diffractometer. What I really like about this project is that Brick Lab really goes out of the way to educate the reader, labeling the different parts of the instruments and linking to videos about how they work.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

LEGO Ideas

I wanted to talk a bit about LEGO Ideas If you don't know, LEGO Ideas (formerly known as LEGO Cuusoo) is a crowdsourcing site where anyone can submit a LEGO creation, and if enough people vote for it, LEGO will consider making it into a set. LEGO Ideas has been very good to science fans like me, and presumably you, bringing us science-themed sets like Shinkai 6500 Submarine, Hayabusa, NASA Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover, and Research Institute, and you could probably include Birds and Big Bang Theory in the mix. So I can't really hate Ideas, but I kind of hate Ideas. The reason is that it's largely a false hope. Yes, they have chosen to make 13 really cool sets. But they've also rejected tens of thousands in the process (a little over a year ago they noted there were 60,000+ projects, and it's only grown since then). So the bad news about Ideas is, well, your set isn't going to be made. Not that it's not possible, but it's kind of like buying a lottery ticket. You're not going to win. Sure, somebody is going to win, but I can say with a high degree of certainty that it's not you. But LEGO Ideas has essentially tricked people into thinking that they have a shot at having their MOC turned into a set.
That might not be so bad, but I think that the whole project has hurt the online LEGO community. If people just kept on doing what they were doing before, building MOCs, posting them on community sites, and discussing them, but occasionally put a nice MOC up on Ideas, that would be fine (I should note, the people who have had MOCs turned into sets mostly are like this). But there are a certain number of people who have disengaged from the community, instead turning themselves into promotion machines for their Ideas submissions. As someone with LEGO themed blogs and who administers a LEGO community forum, I can't tell you how many requests I've gotten to push someone's Ideas submission. And these are mostly from people who seemingly have no interest whatsoever in those blogs or that forum. And there are people who spend a lot of time in the comment threads of the Ideas projects, but that's time they don't spend in real community forums (largely anonymous linear comment threads just cannot be the same).
In addition to the actions of a portion of the submitters, my even bigger frustration with Ideas is that the larger public just doesn't get it at all. I can't tell you how many news stories I've seen that say "____ is going to be a LEGO set", and then when you go to the link it basically comes down to "some random person posted something on the internet". And then, of course, things get repeated in the echo chamber of the internet, as one news source just repeats what another said and no one fact-checks (because, hey, in the world of internet news, there's no need for actual fact checking). Even in the rare case that a submission gets the 10000 votes, it still has about a 10-20% chance of being a set, which of course it means it has about a 90% chance of NOT being a set. But still, every time something gets to 10000 there are stories all over the internet about how that is going to be the next LEGO set. That's actually what prompted this rant, seeing story after story about what the 'next LEGO set' was going to be, and getting excited about blogging it here.
So, I go back and forth about posting Ideas submissions here. I don't really want to be a shill, either for those individuals (as worthy as they might be), or more importantly for the whole Ideas enterprise, which I am very skeptical of. I would much rather those people had posted their MOCs to Flickr, MOCpages, Brickshelf, or some other LEGO photo-sharing site. That said, if someone only posted their MOC on Ideas, I don't want to not share it if it is a really nice MOC. So I'm basically conflicted.
All that said, I want to repeat again that Ideas has been very good to the science LEGO builder. Almost half of the sets that have come out have been science-themed to a greater or lesser extent. So to get over my grumpyness, let's check those out:

Monday, June 8, 2015

LEGO Elements

Students and faculty at Spring Arbor University built this LEGO periodic table. The fun thing is that they then illustrated each of the elements. If you click on the periodic table on the site, you'll learn little facts about each one.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Earth and Moon

Adam Dodge built Earth and Moon, a small orrery showing the rotation of the earth and the orbit of the moon. You can see a video of it in action here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Stepping on a LEGO

Karl Smallwood of Today I Found Out investigated Why Does Stepping On A LEGO Hurt so Much? He starts by noting that the soles of the feet are highly sensitive, which helps us balance, and then he analyzes how much force stepping on a LEGO leads to. Here are the key paragraphs:

For an example, a standard 2×2 Lego brick has a surface area of roughly 2.25 centimetres squared (for the sake of simplicity we’ll ignore the studs, which certainly aren’t going to help matters for your foot anyway). Let’s say a person weighing 75 kilos (165 pounds or 734 Newtons) steps onto it.

Now, the pressure on a given object is equal to the force applied divided by the area over which it is spread (P=F/A). So even if that 75 kilo person were just standing on the Lego with one foot, rather than having their foot accelerating downward at some rate as with walking, this gives us 734 N/0.000225 m2 = roughly 3,262,222 pascals of pressure! For reference, that is roughly 32 times standard atmospheric pressure, all suddenly forcing its knobbly, unforgiving way against one of the most sensitive regions of the body.

To illustrate, here's a cartoon by ILoveDoodle.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Albert Einstein

In addition to being Pi Day, March 14 is also Albert Einstein's birthday. Einstein is easily the most recognizable scientist of the 20th century. His theory of relativity helped move us from Newtonian physics into the modern era. He received the 1921 Nobel in physics for his work on the photoelectric effect, but more broadly on all of his work in physics. He helped start the Manhattan Project by signing a letter to President Roosevelt about the potentially devastating nature of atomic bombs. Since he is such a key figure, and also so recognizable, he has been the inspiration for a great number of LEGO renditions. Here are just a handful of ones I found.

This mosaic (by who?) was on display at BrickWorld this past weekend.

Arthur and Laura Sigg built this mosaic.

Here's a miniland version by Annie1.

This huge sculpture is found in Legoland Florida (and there are similar sculptures at other Legolands as well).

There are tons of other LEGO Einsteins out there, but I'll save them for another time. Maybe next year's birthday.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi Day

Happy Pi Day (3-14-15). Pi is an irrational number that is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. The first five digits are 3.1415. Here are various LEGO commemorations.

Bill Ward



Oscar Romero

Lesgo LEGO Movie

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Rapid-fire book reviews

Dang. I have this stack of books that I've wanted to do nice long reviews on before Christmas, to maybe give some recommendations for gift-giving, but now I find myself just a couple of days away from the 25th. So I'm going to do some short reviews for now, and then in the new year I really promise to go back and do longer takes on each of these.
I'm posting this same post across all of my blogs, btw.

Steampunk LEGO by Guy Himber
No starch press, 200 pages, 2015
Guy is certainly one of the preeminant AFOLs in the steampunk genre, and he's gathered together a collection of models by a lot of other great builders. If you don't know, steampunk is kind of the sci-fi of the Victorian era. The neat thing about this book is that rather than just being page after page of photos of LEGO models, this is put together more like a scrapbook made in the late 1800s. The pages have interesting backgrounds that look like parchment, maps, or pages out of old books. The fonts are often flowing script, or look like they were banged out on a manual typewriter. The images are 'attached' with those photo corners you might see in your granparents' photo albums. The pictures are sometimes in full color, but often in black and white or sepia tones. And the text is all by the fictional chronicler reporting back to Queen Victoria. The result is a very enjoyable volume that stands out from some of the other books that highlight great builds, but sometimes become repetitive (particularly if you have already seen them online). The audience here is probably for the older teen or adult with some interest in this genre, but really any interest in great LEGO models presented interestingly. I highly recommend this book.

LEGO Play Book by Daniel Lipkowitz
Dorling Kindserly (DK), 200 pages, 2013
This book brings together eight builders and lets each of them loose for a chapter based on a given theme. Barney Main builds fairy tales, Tim Goddard microscale, Pete Reid and Yvonne Doyle team up to make animals, and so on. Some of the chapters have a story connecting the models, and others are more collections. My son and I got this from the library when it came out (I really thought I'd reviewed it already) and we had so much fun going through it. We renewed the subscription three times because we were reading through a few pages each night at bedtime, just savoring the experience. He's 5, I'm 45, and we both thought it was great. Probably the main message was to encourage kids to be creative. If you have a kid who is in to LEGO, get them this book. You won't regret it.

LEGO Minifigure Year by Year: A Visual History by Gregory Farshtey with Daniel Lipkowitz
Dorling Kindserly (DK), 256 pages, 2013
While DK has put out a few books like the LEGO Play Book just mentioned, they are more known for putting out books that are little more than catalogs - big compendiums of all of the LEGO Star Wars sets, or all of the LEGO Harry Potter sets, or all of the LEGO Batman sets, etc. I'm generally not a fan of these. This book falls in that category. It's kind of a rehash of Standing Small, a book DK put out a few years ago focused on minifigs, or the LEGO Minifigures Character Encyclopedia, though that was exclusively on the Collectible lines. This book is unique in that, rather than grouping all of the castle figs in one place and all of the Star Wars figs in another, it goes through, well, year by year, just like the title says. So you see groups of figs in chronological order. It's not a comprehensive listing like Christoph Bartneck's Unofficial LEGO Minifigure Catalog, so it's not useful as a reference book, but it is kind of fun to page through and see the evolution of the fig from the classic smiley to today's very detailed figs. Probably the best part is the inclusion of some of the prototypes and other precursors to the modern fig. A nice coffee table book, but probably not something you'd sit down and read. An okay gift for the casually interested person, but I'd rather give them the LEGO Play Book to show them what you can do when you're being creative.

The LEGO Neighborhood Book by Brian Lyles and Jason Lyles
No starch press, 200 pages, 2014
This book focuses on building in the Cafe Corner style. The book is about 10-20% discussion of building style and sources of inspiration, about 30-40% pictures of models by the authors, and about 50% detailed building instructions to make a few large buildings and also some detail features like lampposts and benches. The models are great, and the instructions are really clear. If you like the Cafe Corner sets and want to make more of your own, this is the book for you. Definitely for older teens and adult builders, simply for the scale of the projects involved.

Brick Shakespeare: The Comedies by John McCann, Monica Sweeney, and Becky Thomas
Skyhorse Publishing, 342 pages, 2014
Okay, here's where reviewing is no fun. I absolutely hated Brick Shakespeare: The Tragedies by these authors, and I'm not much happier with this one either. This book is essentially a collection of four LEGO-illustrated plays - A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, Much Ado about Nothing, and The Taming of the Shrew. These are put together in much the same style as the Brick Bible books by Brendan Powell Smith. It's just that, well, the models and photography aren't very good. As I said when I reviewed the previous book, if this were five years ago I might feel differently, but there are so many high quality LEGO books on the market now that I just can't recommend this. I suppose if you are really into Shakespeare you might want this, but I wouldn't rush out to get it.

Brick Fairy Tales by John McCann, Monica Sweeney, and Becky Thomas
Skyhorse Publishing, 264 pages, 2014
This book has LEGO-illustrated versions of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and nine other stories (some longer, some shorter), but my comments are the same as they were for the Brick Shakespeare book. Avoid this.
I should say that I really don't like writing bad reviews. I'd like these to be better, I really would. I don't have anything against the authors, except that I want them to go on line and see what is actually being built out of LEGO these days so they can strive to do better.

There are many other LEGO books I don't have that have come out in the last year, and there's no way to cover them all. Here, though, are some that look particularly interesting to me. As soon as I get them I'll write full reviews.

Beautiful LEGO 2: Dark by Mike Doyle
No starch press, 340 pages, 2014
I completely loved book 1 and am looking forward to getting book 2. In book 1 Mike was really focused on LEGO as artwork, and he brought together works by others to show just that. For this book he publicly called for people to submit or suggest artistic MOCs with a much darker theme. I've seen many of the creations that were submitted, and I look forward to seeing how they all came together in the book.

Art of the Brick by Nathan Sawaya
No starch press, 248 pages, 2014
We're all familiar with Nathan's creations, and you may have even attended one of his traveling exhibitions that have been in art museums all over the world. This book appears to be the companion piece to the exhibit.

Art of LEGO Design by Jordan Schwartz
No starch press, 288 pages, 2014
Jordan was certainly one of the most creative builders around at a very young age. He even got a chance to go to Denmark as a LEGO intern, and I believe he designed a few sets during his internship (I should probably check the details on that). He seems to have dropped out of the hobby for a few years, but he's back with this book that looks at the process of designing MOCs, including interviews with the builders of the work shown.

Revolution! by Brendan Powell Smith
Skyhorse Publishing, 2014
Okay, I'm recommending this one without ever seeing a page of it. We know Brendan from his decade-long project to illustrate the Bible, but last year he came out with Assasination!, focused on assasinations and attempted assasinations of American presidents. I wasn't only impressed by the illustrations - I expected those based on Brendan's previous work - but also by the writing, which was both informative and engaging. Anyone with any interest in history would enjoy it. So, I suppose this is a complete assumption, but I'm going to guess that Revolution!, a LEGO-illustrated history of the American Revolutionary War, will be similarly enjoyable on multiple levels.

Brick City by Warren Elsmore
Barron's, 256 pages, 2013
I've flipped through this one in the store and it looks really good. This is focused on models of well known buildings and other landmarks from around the world, such as the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, etc., mostly at microscale. Perhaps my only concern is that it's a smaller book, whereas bigger pages would make some of the details easier to see. On the other hand, it's hard to carry a large coffee-table sized book with you, so this is nice too.

Brick Wonders by Warren Elsmore
Barron's, 256 pages, 2014
Again, I've looked through this one and it's on my wish list as well. Whereas Brick City was more about modern structures, this one is broader in scope, with ancient structures such as the Pyramids and Babylon, natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon, and even modern things such as the International Space Station. Again, the models look great and the photography is great as well.

Brick Flicks by Warren Elsmore
Barron's, 160 pages, 2014
This is another one that I'm listing without ever seeing it. I actually didn't know this one existed until I was getting the links for the other two by Warren. Based on the strengths of those, though, I'm looking forward to getting Brick Flicks. My only concern is that it appears to be 40% shorter than Brick City and Brick Wonders.