Monday, June 16, 2014

Chemistry lab

Billyburg built this great chemistry lab as a gift. Some of the details include a fume hood, safety shower, and a rotary evaporator (rotovap).

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


About a month ago, Ordo graduated from high school (congratulations!) and he built a MOC to celebrate completing each final exam. Here we see his MOC for his biology class, genetics. The others aren't science-based, but you should still check out the MOCs based on his German literature, English and economics exams.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Research Institute!

The result are in for the next LEGO Ideas set. LEGO Ideas is the successor to LEGO Cuusoo, a website where fan builders can submit their ideas, and if they get enough votes, LEGO will consider making an official set. This has been good for LEGO science fans, with three of the six sets released so far being science themed: the Shinkai research submarine, the Hayabusa probe, and the Mars rover. The recent round of review brought still another science set - the Female Minifigure Set. The original idea was to create a series of vignettes showing women in different occupations (I previously blogged about this). The idea was narrowed down to the chemist, the astronomer, and the paleontologist. This got a huge push because of the gender politics of the issue; as I've previously ranted, that's not the cool thing about this set, though that is surely what will make the headlines. What is cool about this set is that it shows scientists at work. The ultimate set, which will be a variation of the original idea shown below, will be called Research Institute and will come out this fall.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mary Anning

I've been slacking off in blogging, but today's Google doodle is a good prompt for me. Today is the 215th anniversary of Mary Anning's birth. Anning was a fossil collector and paleontologist in Britain in the early 19th century, and her finds helped shape an understanding of prehistoric creatures. Her interest in fossils began very early, when she and her brother Joseph found fossils in the cliffs along the English Channel, as shown here in LEGO form by Fossil Friends. One of their important finds was an ichthyosaur. This LEGO ichthyosaur was built by Bright-Bricks as part of an event this past weekend at the Lyme Regis Museum in Dorset, England. Kids who attended the event could even build their own LEGO ichthyosaurs.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Welcome to the National Science Centre, Mr. Armstrong

This weekend was the Brickish Weekend at the National Space Centre in the UK. Members of the Brickish Association and other AFOLs displayed space-themed MOCs, and members of the public could help assemble a couple of large creations, I think both designed by Bright-Bricks. Bienvenue sur la lune, Mr. Armstrong was a large mosaic featuring Tintin. In the early 1950's Tintin traveled to the moon in a series of comics. A decade and a half later, after the Apollo 11 mission, Hergé, the creator of Tintin, drew this cartoon as a gift to Neil Armstrong. The other model created during the event was a large V2 Rocket. The V2 was developed by the Germans during World War II as a ballistic missile. They launched over 3000 of these at London and other Allied targets. After the war, the US, UK and USSR captured both rockets and scientists, using them to develop their own weapons. The V2 rocket design and many of the German scientists that worked on it became part of the NASA program, and ultimately led to the Saturn V rocket. Fittingly, to bring this all together, the rocket that brought Tintin to the moon in the comics was also visually based on the V2 rocket, in a red and white color scheme.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Brickish Weekend at National Space Centre UK

If you're a science-minded LEGO fan in the UK, you might want to check out the Brickish Weekend at the National Space Centre in Leicester. You'll probably see lots of great space-themed LEGO creations, and attendees will participate in building a large mosaic. Here's a segment - I've got no inside information on how the overall design of the mosaic will turn out, but I'm guessing this will be one small step for man ...

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Periodic table

The periodic table, here by Richard Harrison, lays out all of the different elements, the different types of atoms that make up the world around us. There are a little over a hundred different types known, and some scientists are continuing to work on finding bigger and bigger elements. The elements get bigger and bigger as you read left to right and down the table (technically this is increasing atomic number). The key insight that helped Mendeleev categorize the elements was that when you list them in order there are repeating, or periodic properties. The lines are broken up so that everything within a column has these periodic properties. Chemists can look at where an element is on the table, and what other elements are nearby, and make conclusions about the properties of that element.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Benjamin Franklin

In addition to being a politician and diplomat in the early days of the United States, Benjamin Franklin (here by Tormentalous) was also a scientist and inventor. One of his most famous experiments was the kite experiment depicted here. Contrary to popular belief (and my own belief until a few minutes ago when I looked this up), his kite was not struck by lightning. Instead he flew his kite up into storm clouds and found that static electricity built up on the kite (and traveled down the wet string to the key), and he got a static shock from touching the key. From this he deduced that lighting bolts were an electric discharge, and subsequently he invented the lightning rod to protect tall buildings.

Ben Franklin lived in Philadelphia, and this weekend is Philly Brick Fest, a LEGO gathering here in Philly. I hope to be at the public exhibition with my son, so maybe I'll see you there.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Magdeburg hemispheres

Otto von Guericke, a German scientist and also the mayor of Magdeburg, invented a vacuum pump and studied the effects of vacuum and air pressure. In one of his most spectacular experiments, he fit two copper hemispheres together and used his pump to create a vacuum inside. This created a force holding the hemispheres together that was so great, teams of horses could not pull them apart until the valve was opened and air was let back inside. This experiment was illustrated here by Tim v.F. for the New Scientist LEGO contest.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

T4 virus

Recently NewScientist held a LEGO contest. Lisa Strazdina was runner up with her model of enterobacteria phage T4. This virus infects E. coli, injecting DNA into the bacterium and using the bacteria's own enzymes to reproduce itself, killing the bacterium in the process.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Flickr LEGO Astronautics group

A new group has started on Flickr, LEGO Astronautics, for people to share their real-space (as opposed to science fiction) creations. Check it out to see lots of great MOCs. I'm sure I'll be returning to this group often to find content for SciBricks.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What is black and white and red all over?

A recent study that appeared in Nature Communications saying that zebra stripes somehow help them ward off biting flies. Here's a zebra that I'm pretty sure is from the life-size animal displays that Sean Kenney has been building for zoos around the US.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Freedom 7

Legohaulic built Freedom 7, the Mercury capsule that carried Alan Shepard into space for fifteen minutes back in 1961, the first American in space.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Golden ratio caliper

The golden ratio is the ratio between two numbers, a and b, that together are a solution of the equation a/b = (a+b)/a. This ratio is equal to one plus the square root of five, all divided by two, an irrational number roughly equal to 1.61803. The golden ratio is also the ratio between subsequent terms of the Fibonacci sequence (as the length of the sequence approaches infinity, it shows up in geometrical divisions of certain isosceles triangles, a five-pointed star, a regular triangle inscribed in a circle, and other geometric shapes. These shapes play a role in art and architecture. For instance, the golden rectangle has sides where the long side is 1.61803 times longer than the short side, and this featured, for instance, in the construction of the Parthenon. A golden ratio caliper, such as this working LEGO version by Amida Na, can be expanded and contracted, but the ratio of the distances between the points, and also the ratio between the longer of those distances and the distance between the outer points, always equals the golden ratio.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Pi Day

I know, I know, I've been on a three month hiatus from blogging. Sorry. I will get back in the game sooner rather than later. In the meantime, though, here is a great mosaic by Toltomeja in celebration of Pi Day (3-14). Pi is the constant ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. It is an irrational number that equals approximately 3.14159, and it shows up as a constant all over math and science.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Newton's apple

I was told once in a class that the whole story of Newton and the apple was a myth invented many years later, but some quick Googling found this memoir by William Stukeley, a friend and biographer of Newton, who recounts the story. The apple didn't hit him on the head, as sometimes shown in cartoons, but Newton was walking in the garden thinking about why apples always fall straight down, rather than at some angle, and he came up with his first formulation of the law of gravity. Here is Chris Maddison's LEGO rendition.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Book review: Big Unofficial LEGO Builder's Book

The Big Unofficial LEGO Builder's Book by Joachim klang and Oliver Albrecht, 2012, HEEL Verlag GmbH

Please note that I'm posting this same review across all my blogs, but I'm appending some blog-specific information at the end of each one.

Okay, this one is a year old, but I just got it from the library and figured I'd add to my series of reviews. Oliver Albrecht (aka *Olly*) and Joe Klang (aka -derjoe-) built The Big Unofficial LEGO Builder's Book, subtitled 'Build your own city'. As the name implies, this is all about building in the city theme. Really, though, it is mostly about vehicles, so a more accurate subtitle would have been something like 'Driving around the city'.

The book opens with a few pages of text, providing some definitions and acronyms that AFOLs use, urls to a few important community websites (of course it's always problematic which ones to choose), and a short tutorial on SNOT building. One thing really bothered me. On page 14 when they are discussing making balls, they write "A variety of solutions circulate in the LEGO forums around the world; here is ours:", and then they give exactly the instructions for the Lowell sphere. I'm not saying that there is ownership of LEGO building techniques, and you need to give credit when you build anything, since almost every technique has been done before. But don't specifically say "Here is my design", and then give someone else's design.

That quibble aside, the book quickly moves into it's main focus, directions to build city-themed MOCs, mostly cars and trucks. The first half of the book is devoted to microscale. There are 22 cars and trucks, all built at 2-wide, with 5-plate-high people. I like that they do wheels a few different ways, which lends some variety to your microscale world. They also show how you can take the same basic car design, and by varying up the colors and switching out a few parts you can get a lot of different vehicles. They also include directions for a couple of buildings, a tree, a helicopter and a plane. The designs are all well done. They are fairly simple, since micro cars are necessarily only a small number of parts, probably appropriate for intermediate builders. The instructions are very clear in LDRAW and in full color, and include parts lists. Interspersed with the directions, they have photographs of a large microscale city layout, incorporating all of the different designs in the book. The layout is great, and I would have loved to see even more of this.

In the last ~40% of the book they focus on minifig scale. A cab, a Ferrari, a convertable, a truck, and a helicopter are all built at a six-wide scale. Again, the instructions are done in LDRAW, full color, with parts lists. These models are more for intermediate to advanced builders, and the results are really good (especially the truck). There are a few photos of the completed models, but mostly just the vehicles on simple bases (there is one with a house) rather than set into a larger layout. While I liked the minifig scale vehicles, I really thought these should have been in a separate book, and left this book just at microscale.

I thought this book turned out really well. The models were great, and now I want to go build more micro city MOCs. I note that the same builders have been busy, with the previously noted Joe's Garage: Build your own LEGO Vehicles by Klang, and Build your own Galaxy along with Lutz Uhlmann and Tim Bischoff.

Blog-specific content - There is none.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Curiosity Rover

LEGO has released an image of the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover, due to be released in January for US$30.

Book review: Extreme Bricks

Extreme Bricks by Sarah Herman, 2013, Skyhorse Publishing

Please note that I'm posting this same review across all my blogs, but I'm appending some blog-specific information at the end of each one.

Next up in my series of LEGO book reviews is Extreme Bricks. Last year, when I reviewed A Million Little Bricks: The Unofficial Illustrated History of the LEGO Phenomenon by Sarah Herman, one of my main critiques was that she spent the bulk of the book on a recap of the corporate history of the LEGO Group, and only a handful of pages at the end on the AFOL community. Well, she's come back to the subject to correct this problem. Or perhaps all along she planned on writing two books, one on the company and one on the builders. This book is about MOCs, big ones. The subtitle is "Spectacular, Record-Breaking, and Astounding LEGO Projects from Around the World." That gives you an idea of her focus. This book is all about really big creations.

The book still starts in the corporate world, but I found it more interesting than her previous book. Here she focuses in the first couple of chapters on the large models that LEGO built for in-store promotions and at the first Legoland park, including an extended treatment of the large Sitting Bull by Bjorn Richter. She also looks at things like the James May LEGO house, the giant X-Wing that was unveiled in Times Square, and sculptures comissioned by LEGO. But she quickly moves into things that are probably more interesting to community members, MOCs built by the true fans.

If you read the LEGO blogs, these are mostly things you've seen, like Alice Finch's Hogwarts, the OneLUG March of the Ents, Ed Diment's aircraft carrier, and the like. Names like Sawaya, Kenney, McIntyre, McNaught and other professional builders are all over this book. I really like that Herman interviewed all of the builders, giving backgrounds to the models, building tips, and links to find more of their work online. I have to admit I was a little off-put by the bigness of it all. This is absolutely no knock on the specific MOCs or builders featured, I realize that there are particular challenges and skills involved in building big, but at times it feels like what matters to this book is not that the models are excellent, but that they are really large. It's been pointed out before that when visitors to the public exhibition at fan conventions get to vote on their favorite model, they inevitably choose the largest.

Herman does pretty well at highlighting the community. Many books by people from outside the community, and even from some on the inside, mention Lugnet and the Brothers-Brick and stop there, but Herman does an admirable job of mentioning a variety of online communities, photo-sharing sites, and cons. It's still not the definitive history of the AFOL community that I'd love to see someday, showing the rise and fall of different forums, fests, fan themes, etc, but it's a start.

I do have a couple of critiques. The text reads like it comes from the outside. This does not feel the same as those books written by members of the AFOL community, nor does it feel like the writing of Jonathan Bender, a reporter who started out examining this crazy phenomenon and came to truly love it. It feels like the work of an outsider looking in - a reporter who is certainly impressed by these creations and their builders, but not someone who really knows it in her heart. My other critique is the pictures. This book is smaller than many of the LEGO books I've read - the pages are about 9 inches tall - and the bulk of the images are about a quarter of a page. A book devoted to really large creations should have large pictures, so you can appreciate the actual details of the MOCs rather than just their bigness. This book would have been better served by being at the same size as Brick Shakespeare, another output from the same publishing house, with at least one picture of each MOC that filled the whole page.

Blog-specific content - About the only thing is Kenney's Hummingbird and Polar Bear, which are very true to life.