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A High-Tech Lab with Low-Tech Legos

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Engineering teams use them, kids use them, and we all have all made the unpleasant mistake of stepping on to them at least once in our life: Legos.

Long touted as a staple toy for the kids around of the world, the colorful bricks have garnered more and more attention in recent years for their varied applications and benefits over the past years.

Research conducted by the American Marketing Association has shown that Legos foster our creativity. And a separate study in the peer-reviewed journal, Early Child Development and Care, shows that they enable success in mathematics as well.

Richard Moser, an Austrian soft matter physicist at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria, has now enhanced our understanding and application of Legos with his latest research.

Faced with fiscal constraints due to expensive lab equipment, he conceived a high-tech tensometer with the help of low-tech Legos.

Richard Moser remembers that, ever since he started at Johannes Kepler University (JKU), the playful inclinations of his peers led to the fact that “a lot of work was done with Legos,” which his peers “love to use.” When first faced with having to measure the elasticity of rubbers for his Master’s thesis, he struck on the idea of incorporating Legos into his research.

After several months of prototyping, the setup was complete and the result spoke for itself. While a high-end tensometer can cost upwards of $50,000, Moser’s design clocked in at a mere $700, the bulk of the cost being associated with the Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 hardware.

Apart from being over 71 times cheaper(!) than a traditional tensometer, Richard Moser’s Lego design performs two key tasks required for his research into wearable electronics:

  1. It tests how much force can be applied before a stretchable electronics breaks;
  2. It tracks electrical resistance within wearables, ensuring that wearables continue to operate while being stretched.

Source: Advanced Science

Moser’s success is symptomatic of the culture evident at JKU where, as Moser recounts, rapid prototyping has “become much more important at the university.” Due to the abundance of laser cutters and 3-D printers at JKU, a lot of scientists opt to go DIY in their laboratories, which Moser sees as “an important step that saves the university a lot of money.”

The benefits provided by Richard Moser, however, will not remain exclusively within the hallways of JKU. Being an ardent advocate of open access, Richard Moser has published his research findings in the Open Access version of Advanced Science, and has made his construction manual available free online. He believes that “anyone with a bit of technical understanding who knows his way around a screwdriver and soldering iron” can rebuild his design.

The simplicity – yet effectiveness – of his project is something Moser even envisions passing on to a younger generation, hoping to catalyze increased interest in science with Lego projects such as his.

With the market for wearable devices on the rise, scientists worldwide will be able to test new devices at a low cost, thanks to Richard Moser and his team at the Johannes Kepler University.


Robin Tim Weis serves as a project manager in OSTA in Washington, DC. Previously, he served as a policy analyst at the International Narcotics Control Board in the United Nations. As a former Europe correspondent for and foreign commercial assistant for the US Embassy in Brussels, he has been a strong proponent of bolstering transatlantic relations. You can follow Robin on Twitter @RobinTimWeis.


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Guest Sunday, 20 August 2017