Tag Archives: lego

Collectible LEGO sets have an 11% annual yield. They’re a better investment than stocks, gold, or art

The 2007 Millennium Falcon LEGO set initially sold for $400 on the primary market, then fetched as much as $15,000 in auctions seven years later. Credit: LEGO.

With cryptocurrencies having one of the most impressive bull runs in the history of financial assets, it’s easy to see why people are no longer impressed by traditional investments. However, if you’re not the kind of person that can handle the heart-racing, wild volatility of the crypto market, you may be interested in another unusual way of investing that can be both highly profitable and not that all that risky. That would be collecting toys, believe it or not.

According to a study published this week in the journal Research in International Business and Finance, some rare toys like retired LEGO sets can grow in value at a rate as high as 11% per year. That’s much faster than gold, stocks, and bonds — the go-to financial instruments preferred by retail and institutional investors for decades.

Collectible toys are in the same investment class as rare wines, vintage cars, jewelry, art, and antiques. Collectibles are items that are worth far more than their original sale price and are considered alternative investments—vehicles that don’t fall into any other category like stocks, bonds, cash, or real estate.

Most wealthy people are aware of the importance of diversifying their portfolios by adding collectibles to their baskets. About 10% of their net worth is comprised of works of art, jewelry, and other collectibles whose value tends to rise in time, providing a cushion during periods when the stock market crashes.

But while traditional collectibles have been widely studied by economists, toy collectibles like discontinued model cars and Barbie dolls have been largely ignored.

For their new study, researchers at the Higher School of Economics at the University of Moscow analyzed the prices of 2,322 LEGO sets that were first released between 1987 and 2015. They compared the primary sales price to those from online auctions of unopened sets.

In just two to three years after a LEGO set is retired, the secondary market prices typically start growing, although there was a great deal of variation ranging from -50% to +600% annually. That’s because the value of the sets depends on numerous factors, the best indicators for swing trading being the number of sets of the edition and the interest in special editions such as those dedicated to iconic films, books, or historic events.

The medium-sized sets saw the least returns, while very large and, conversely, very small sets grew the fastest. Smaller LEGO sets tend to have unique parts or figurines that never show up in other releases, while very big sets tend to be produced in small quantities and are more attractive to adults.

Concerning thematic sets, some of the most expensive were those dedicated to the Millennium Falcon, Cafe on the Corner, Taja Mahal, Death Star II, and the Imperial Star Destroyer.

For instance, the Financial Times reports that the largest set the Danish toymaker ever produced — a version of the Star Wars Millenium Falcon, which consisted of nearly 6,000 pieces — was released in 2007 at a price of around $400. In 2014, an unopened set sold at an auction in Las Vegas for $15,000. This particular sale marks the world’s most expensive Lego set, so it’s definitely an outlier, but elsewhere similar unopened sets regularly fetch $6,000.

Keeping the set unopened and in pristine condition is key to having a collectible toy item that grows in value with time. Once opened, collectible toys decline in value automatically by at least 25%, Gerben van IJken, toy expert, Lego valuer and auctioneer for the site Catawiki.

The prices of LEGO collectibles on secondary markets were not tied to the stock market, making them a good store of value and hedging against market swings. Artworks and antiques play a similar role, but the entry barrier of a collectible LEGO set is usually lower. On the other hand, LEGO sets are only worthwhile as an investment vehicle when playing the long game. You have to hold a set for at least three years after the set is discontinued in order to experience a positive yield. An initial transactional cost is also higher than in stocks or bonds due to factors like delivery and storage.

“Investors in LEGO generate high returns from reselling unpacked sets, particularly rare ones, which were produced in limited editions or a long time ago. Sets produced 20-30 years ago make LEGO fans nostalgic, and prices for them go through the roof. But despite the high profitability of LEGO sets on the secondary market in general, not all sets are equally successful, and one must be a real LEGO fan to sort out the market nuances and see the investment potential in a particular set,” said Victoria Dobrynskaya, study co-author and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Economic Sciences at Moscow University.

Millions of LEGO pieces lost at sea 23 years ago are still washing up on the English coast

LEGO pieces found on Cornish beaches. Credit: Cornish Plastic Pollution Coalition.

On February 13, 1997, stormy weather caused a Tokio Express container ship to tilt more than 45 degrees, causing 62 containers to go overboard. One of these containers carried 4.8 million pieces of LEGO. More than 23 years later, LEGO bricks are still washing up on Cornish coastlines, in southwest England.

According to Delia Webb of the Cornish Plastic Pollution Coalition (CPPC), volunteer beach cleaner are regularly finding LEGOs to this day, which is a “sobering reminder of the enduring nature of plastics in our environment”.

“We are still finding Lego pieces remarkably frequently but we get on and pick up and clear whatever is on the beach. Everyone wants to find a Lego dragon but we would much rather go to the beach and see a clean beach,” Webb told Cornwall Live.

“There is such a variety of plastics on the beaches – you also see tiny little micro-plastics which are easily ingested by sea creatures. Then we are running into how plastics get into the food chain.”

Credit: Cornish Plastic Pollution Coalition.

In 2019, the shipping industry transported 226 million containers, whose cargo was valued at more than $4 trillion. Most of the time, these containers reach their destination safely. However, even with proper packing and stowage, some containers will inevitably become lost at sea.

Credit: Cornish Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Credit: Cornish Plastic Pollution Coalition.

The World Shipping Council estimates that between 2008 and 2019 a total of 1,382 containers were lost at sea each year, on average. The most recent years, between 2014 and 2016, saw a decline in the number of lost containers, representing close to 50% reduction.

However, containers continue to be lost due to stowage, lashing, and misdeclaration issues. Severe weather, ship groundings, structural failures, and ship collisions are also a major cause of container losses at sea.

Many of these compromised containers carry plastics and other extremely durable goods and items that can circulate through the ocean for decades, as LEGOs on Cornish beaches clearly illustrate.

Scientists chill LEGO bricks to nearly absolute zero

Credit: University of Lancaster.

LEGOs have always found their use in cool scientific experiments, but new developments from Lancaster University in the UK took things to a whole new level. Using a sophisticated setup, the researchers chilled LEGO bricks extremely close to absolute zero (the coldest temperature possible) and, in the process, gained useful insights that might one-day help us build better quantum computers.

Brick by brick

Quantum computers are machines that operate on qubits or quantum bits, rather than classical bits (1s or 0s). By exploiting the quirky nature of quantum mechanics, such machines are able to encode information in 1s, 0s, or both states at the same time. This allows quantum computers to perform computations orders of magnitude more complex than a classic computer is capable of doing.

Two-qubits can perform operations on four values, three on eight values and so on in powers of two. Today’s computers have millions of transistors. Now imagine a quantum logic gate that works with millions of qubits. The computing force would be unheard of.

In October, Google made a controversial announcement, claiming its machines have reached “quantum supremacy” — a term that describes crossing the threshold where quantum computers can do things that conventional computers cannot.

The main challenge that quantum computers face is qubits failing due to decoherence caused by vibrations, temperature fluctuations, electromagnetic waves and other interactions with the outside environment, which ultimately destroys the exotic quantum properties of the computer.

This is why quantum computers are such cumbersome machines — they require a huge setup that involves pumps, compressors, and liquid nitrogen in order to chill things close to absolute zero.

But, where do LEGOs fit into all this? As it so happens, LEGOs have thermal properties that make them highly appealing for insulating a quantum computer’s components.

In an experiment, physicists at the University of Lancaster stacked four LEGOs and introduced them in a special refrigerating device that mixes two helium isotopes to generate ultra-cold temperatures.

The bottom of the stack was placed right where the isotopes mix while the top brick was fitted with a small heater and thermometer.

The bottom LEGOs were exposed to frigid temperatures ranging from 70 milliKelvin to 1.8 Kelvin — up to thousands of times colder than outer space.

Despite the ultra-cold temperature, heating the top LEGO brick barely changed the temperature of the bottom brick, making LEGOs extremely good thermal insulators. In fact, they performed better than some of the most expensive plastics on the market used for this purpose, the researchers reported.

All of this doesn’t mean that we’ll see LEGO bricks in quantum computers any time soon (or who knows, really?). Instead, the insights gained by the study could be used to design insulators that are custom made for perfect integration with the demands of quantum computing.

“This work suggests that custom-built modular materials with even better thermal performance could be readily and cheaply produced by 3D printing,” the authors wrote.

The findings were reported in the journal Scientific Reports.

LEGO goes prehistoric with new dinosaur fossil set

LEGO has some good news for those dinosaur fans out there. A new dinosaur fossil set has been recently unveiled, which lets budding paleontologists build their own brick-based museum display.

Credit: LEGO

The set contains 910 pieces and lets you build three dinosaur skeleton models, a T. rex, a triceratops and a pteranodon (which is technically a pterosaur). Each of the models is posable, LEGO said, and they come with display stands so you can set them up in ferocious poses.

The set comes from the company’s LEGO Ideas platform, which lets fans come up with their own ideas for Lego sets and then take them to a public vote to lobby for them to be made. The Dinosaur Fossils set was designed by Jonathan Brunn, a graphic and web designer in France.

“When I was little, my passion for dinosaurs was almost obsessional,” said Brunn. “Dinosaurs were the most incredible thing ever for me, so I made this project to please my inner child! I would have loved it as a kid, and I think every kid who loves dinosaurs and science would agree with me.”

The Dinosaur Fossils set costs US$59.99 and will be available in stores and online on November 1st. If you’re having a hard time justifying the set’s price tag because of other adult fiscal responsibilities, Lego is also including a tiny paleontologist minifigure, as well as a Lego sapiens skeleton figure.

The paleontologist kit also comes with a booklet featuring easy-to-follow building instructions, fascinating facts about the Tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops and pteranodon, and information about the set’s fan creator and LEGO designer. It’s aged 16+ and for anyone with a passion for natural history and dinosaurs.

LEGO Ideas Friends Central Perk and LEGO Ideas Treehouse were released in the theme earlier this year. The first one allows creating the coffee shop of the popular TV show, with minifigures of the six friends. The second one builds a minifigure scale tree complete with treehouse shacks on the branches.

Three more LEGO Ideas product ideas were recently confirmed as approved for official release; Sesame Street, Playable Piano, and The Pirate Bay. The will be released in the first months of 2020.

Pediatricians swallow Lego toys to see how long it takes to poop them out

Credit: Pixabay.

In a new study worthy of the Ig Nobel Prize, a team of pediatricians volunteered to swallow LEGO pieces to see how long it takes to gently expel them out. Suffice to say that the “toy object quickly passes through adult subjects with no complications,” the researchers concluded. The study published in The Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health is by no means an example of hard science but many patients worried about their children accidentally swallowing plastic toys will find the results valuable, nevertheless.

“We know that coins are the most commonly swallowed foreign object in the pediatric population and there is a lot of data surrounding transit time. The second most commonly swallowed objects are small toys but there is very little data out there. We wanted to know how long it would take for a small piece of plastic toy, in this case a Lego head, to pass through,” the researchers wrote.

The study involved six doctors associated with the pediatric medical blog Don’t Forget the Bubbles. The participants first recorded their bowel habits before ingesting the object of the study (a LEGO head), which enabled them to establish a Stool Hardness and Transit (SHAT) score. They then recorded how long it took for the LEGO toy to exit through the stool, measured by the Found and Retrieved Time (FART) score. Yes, these researchers certainly had their fun.

On average, it took 1.71 days for the researchers to retrieve the LEGO toys from their stool. Writing in their new study, the authors described various retrieval methods from squishing the contents of a bag filled with poop to sifting through the stool with chopsticks. One of the researchers wasn’t able to retrieve his ingested LEGO toy, which means he may have missed it during a flush. Alternatively, the missing toy might lurk in the doctor’s bowels for years and years, the authors joked. “Perhaps one day many years from now, a gastroenterologist performing a colonoscopy will find it staring back at him,” they wrote.

A child will likely see a different exit time, as the length of their intestines differs quite a bit from adults. Another study limitation is the small sample size. In any event, this was never meant to be a very serious study, but rather a fun experiment in the run-up to Xmas, the authors said. But although it may be too much to draw conclusions for the  “the entire population of Lego swallowers,” the researchers said that the findings will at least ease the worries of some parents.

“This will reassure parents, and the authors advocate that no parent should be expected to search through their child’s feces to prove object retrieval,” the researchers said.

LEGO launches functioning wind turbine model to promote sustainability

LEGO wants you to build wind turbines — one eco-friendly plastic block at a time.

Lego windmill.

Image credits LEGO.

Danish toy manufacturer LEGO teamed up with turbine manufacturer Vestas to create a toy turbine set that you need to assemble, but actually works! Oh, and the blocks are built using LEGO’s new sustainable production process.

The 826-piece turbine stands 1 meter (0.3 feet) high when completed. The kit was reportedly made exclusively for Vestas back in 2008 and will now go on sale to the public on November 23.

Toymill

Lego windmill 2.

Image credits LEGO.

The turbine (once completed) boasts three adjustable blades that rotate — the set includes a motor to spin them — and built-in aircraft warning lights. The vista is further fleshed out by a house, patio, mailbox, flower beds, and a white picket fence, all of them pleasantly rural.

Turbines obviously need turbine workers, so LEGO is also throwing a Vestas van, two service technicians with safety helmets, a lady (who, presumably, inhabits the house underneath the turbine), and a dog (presumably the lady’s pet).

Lego did not remain oblivious to the irony of building a model promoting sustainability from unsustainable materials. The kit’s blocks were cast from a new, sugarcane-based plastic that LEGO announced earlier this year. The material, polyethylene, is softer than the traditional plastic LEGO used, but it’s hardy and, according to the company, the blocks are “technically identical to those produced using conventional plastic”.

“We strive to make a positive impact on the environment and are committed to climate action and to use sustainable materials in products and packaging,” said Tim Brooks, Vice President of Lego’s Environmental Responsibility Group. “This wind turbine celebrates our first steps in bringing these ambitions to life and we hope it will inspire builders to learn about renewable energy.”

“Today, wind energy is the cheapest source of energy in many markets, which have made wind turbines a sustainability icon across the globe and we are proud to partner with the LEGO Group on this relaunch,” said Morten Dyrholm, Group Senior Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Public Affairs at Vestas.

Dyrholm explains that Vestas requested the model specifically to promote wind energy to a small audience within the energy sector. He adds that today’s relaunch of the LEGO set for a global audience “tells the story of how wind energy [has] gone from niche to mainstream, not just within energy but the entire world”.

The new kit — along with the plant-based plastic bricks — are part of LEGO’s drive to implement sustainable materials in their packaging by 2025 and their products by 2030.

Scientists designed a nerve agent detector using LEGO bricks and a smartphone. Credit: American Chemical Society.

Scientists build chemical weapon detector with Lego

War is no child’s play, but that didn’t stop researchers at the University of Texas at Austin from being creative. They used LEGO bricks — popular children’s toys — and a smartphone to develop an optical sensing method for detecting nerve agents.

Scientists designed a nerve agent detector using LEGO bricks and a smartphone. Credit: American Chemical Society.

Scientists designed a nerve agent detector using LEGO bricks and a smartphone. Credit: American Chemical Society.

Chemical weapons are arguably the most gruesome kinds of weapons man has devised. They work by shutting down enzymes that control the body’s nervous system functions, inhibiting respiratory and cardiovascular capability. Death follows within minutes from contact with the chemical agent — which is either inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

The use and possession of chemical weapons are prohibited under international law. However, several nations continue to maintain active chemical weapons programs, despite a prevailing norm against the use of chemical weapons and international efforts to destroy existing stockpiles. Recent events in Syria suggest that chemical weapons have been deployed there, for instance. Then, there’s the threat of terrorist attacks.

Besides their potential for causing horrific mass murder, chemical weapons are also extremely easy to conceal. Generally, the compounds are odorless, tasteless, and highly difficult to detect because of their low lethal doses. Even a fraction of a milligram of some chemical agents is enough to kill a person.

Current methods for detecting nerve agents involve bulky and expensive equipment that isn’t suited for the field. To complicate matters further, there are two main classes of such lethal chemicals, each with its particularities, making it challenging to differentiate between them.

The two main types of nerve agents are G-series and V-series. G-series are phosphoryl fluorides, such as sarin (GB), soman (GD), and tabun (GF) gas, while V-series are phosphoryl thiols, such as O-ethyl-S-(2-diisopropylaminoethyl), methylphos-phonothioate (VX), O-isobutyl-S-2-diethyl-aminoethylmethyl-phosphonothioate(RVX), and O-butyl-S-2-diethyl-aminoethyl methylphosphonothioate (CVX). V-agents are more toxic and of lower volatility than G-agents, making them far more dangerous.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin not only found an efficient way to detect and differentiate between various nerve agents, they did so using cheap and readily available materials. The method doesn’t involve any direct chemical analysis, instead relying on image analysis.

“Traditionally, to record and interpret the optical changes, spectroscopy measurements such as fluorescence spectroscopy, ultraviolet−visible absorption spectroscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, circularly dichroism spectropolarimetry, etc., utilizing sophisticated instruments are required,” the authors wrote in their new study published in ACS Central Science. 

The team developed a cascade of reactions that amplify an optical signal resulting from a byproduct of the decomposition of the nerve agents. The mixture changes color and intensity of emissions relative to the amount of chemical weapon agent. It’s then only a matter of recording this visual change of emissions  — which can be read with a smartphone’s camera, placed within a LEGO box. The only other components in the chemical weapon detector are a UV/visible lamp and a 96-well test plate.

The resulting image is analyzed by free-software and to encourage others to adopt and improve their technology, the researchers uploaded all of their work (code, image guides, and a demo video) to GitHub.

“We show that the two different amplification routines are selective for their analyte class and thus successfully discriminated the G- and V-series nerve agent mimics. Further, accurate concentrations of the analytes are determined using the chromaticity and LEGO
approach given herein, thus demonstrating a simple and on-site constructible/portable device for use in the field,” the authors concluded.

Lego will start making its first sustainable pieces, replacing plastic

Lego recently announced that they will start producing pieces from sustainable sugar cane. The toys, which will be indistinguishable from classic Legos, will also feature “botanical elements” like leaves, bushes, and trees. Lego’s current bricks are made from oil-based plastics.

“We want to make a positive impact on the world around us, and are working hard to make great play products for children using sustainable materials,” said Tim Brooks, vice president, environmental responsibility at the Lego Group, in a statement. “This is a great first step in our ambitious commitment of making all Lego bricks using sustainable materials.”

The new line of production has reportedly already started with pieces being produced from polyethylene, which is a soft, durable and flexible plastic — technically identical to those produced using conventional plastic. Lego says that we needn’t worry about the quality of the new products, as they’ve tested the plant-based plastic to ensure that it meets the high standards for quality and safety that consumers expect from the company.

“LEGO products have always been about providing high quality play experiences giving every child the chance to shape their own world through inventive play. Children and parents will not notice any difference in the quality or appearance of the new elements, because plant-based polyethylene has the same properties as conventional polyethylene,” said Tim Brooks.

The move is part of Lego’s campaign to use sustainable materials in its core products and packaging by 2030, a move in which they have already invested $165 million. According to a research report, 4% of the world’s petroleum is used as a raw material to make plastic, and another 4% is used in the plastic-making process. Since plastic is so ubiquitous and so notoriously non-eco-friendly, finding ways to replace it is extremely important. With this in mind, Lego has partnered with WWF to play their part, joining the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA), which supports the responsible development of plastics made from plant material.

“It is essential that companies in each industry find ways to responsibly source their product materials and help ensure a future where people, nature, and the economy thrive,” said Alix Grabowski, a senior program officer at WWF. “The LEGO Group’s decision to pursue sustainably sourced bio-based plastics represents an incredible opportunity to reduce dependence on finite resources, and their work with the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance will allow them to connect with other companies to continue to think creatively about sustainability.”

LEGO Group achieves 100% renewable energy 3 years ahead of schedule, builds LEGO-turbine to celebrate

LEGO, one of the world’s most loved companies, just became even more popular after they announced that they are now fully operating on renewable energy, three years before their self-set objective.

A LEGO Wall-e — only fitting for LEGO’s environmental achievement. Image via Pixabay.

The milestone was achieved thanks to the completion of a 258-megawatt offshore wind farm in the Irish Sea.

“We work to leave a positive impact on the planet and I am truly excited about the inauguration of the Burbo Bank Extension wind farm,” said Bali Padda, CEO of the LEGO Group.

In total, LEGO has supported the development of more than 160 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy, but it didn’t come cheap. It took four years and a $6 billion investment, but at the end of the day, it was clearly worth it. In 2016 alone, more than 360-gigawatt hours of energy were used by the LEGO Group, which means that the company is saving a lot of money in the long run in addition to having a positive environmental impact.

It’s always inspiring to see companies assume leadership when it comes to switching to renewables, and even though multinational corporations often have a bad name, LEGO has taken a different route. Aside from going fully renewable and producing all-around awesome things, they’ve invested millions to ditch petroleum-based plastics, celebrated the achievements of female scientists, helped build a worm-brain controlled robot, and constantly refused to build military-themed toys (which yes, we see as a good thing). As they themselves claim on their website, they don’t just focus on toy innovation, but also on the environment and having ethical, transparent practices.

To celebrate and raise awareness, they built a wind turbine from LEGO bricks alone, using 146,000 pieces and achieving a new Guiness World Record. The 7.5-meters tall turbine is a replica of the new 200-meter tall wind turbines of the Burbo Bank Extension wind farm, which helped LEGO achieve their sustainable goal. The new turbines are also the largest in the world.

However, the company announced that it’s not planning to rest on its laurels. They want to continue investing in renewable energy to create a better future for the next generations.

“Together with our partners, we intend to continue investing in renewable energy to help create a better future for the builders of tomorrow,” Mr Padda said.

“We see children as our role models and as we take action in reducing our environmental impact as a company, we will also continue to work to inspire children around the world by engaging them in environmental and social issues,” he concluded.

This Lego tape is the best thing you never knew you wanted

Lego is without a doubt one of the most popular toys ever created, but there’s a big problem — not everything is Lego. After putting blocks together for a couple of hours, you just feel like you everything should be stackable when in reality, sadly, it isn’t. But all that can be fixed with a newly-created Lego tape which can make any surface Lego-compatible.

The people working at Nimuno have had this crazy idea to Lego-fy things with a sticky tape. The tape is flexible, it’s cuttable, and it comes with an adhesive backing so you can attach it to walls, other toys, and pretty much everything you could think of. It’s surprisingly sturdy and surprisingly cheap, at only $11 for two rolls, but it’s flexible and you can cut it in any size you want.

You can stick it to walls, other toys, even shoes. As one commenter pointed out, if you’re really devious, you can put it over your enemies’ floor and then put real lego pieces on it. Yikes!

Of course, the tape functions best with other Lego pieces — anything can become a battlefield!

The project was so successful that they’ve gained almost one million dollars in funding on IndieGoGo, from the $8,000 goal they set for themselves. The tape is currently available for pre-order now via IndieGoGo, or you can wait until it starts hitting the shelves. As the response has been overwhelmingly positive and the Nimuno studio gathered over 100 times the funding they were hoping for, I’d imagine it becoming a hit product pretty soon.

Credit: Lego Group

Why Lego won’t ever make ‘realistic’ military-related toys

Credit: Lego Group

Credit: Lego Group

Lego is one of the biggest brands in commerce right now, some claiming it’s more recognizable than Coca Cola or Ferrari. Since its humble beginnings in 1932 when Lego was only a Danish carpentry workshop, the brand has expanded massively foremost thanks to the success of its Lego bricks and iconic yellow smiley faced figurines. And although the last two decades have been very tough financially for Lego, which almost faced bankruptcy, the toy maker remains a household name and is still popular with children despite the market has shifted massively towards digital games and entertainment.

What made it also appealing is that you can build almost anything with Lego, even some pretty cool science experiments. Previously, ZME Science covered a Lego-made nuclear spectrometer model, a worm-brain controlled Lego robot, and even a Lego shuttle which was sent into Earth’s orbit. Certainly, much of Lego’s success lies in this versatility. Along the decades, Lego has released all sorts of sets following themes like Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars, firefighters, pirates or historical Legos which feature Medival or Colonial era figurines.

While you’ll see a lot of spaceships and weaponry like swords or tiny 18th-century muskets, you’ll definitely won’t ever see military-related Lego toys. Plastic toy soldiers have never gone out of fashion among grade-schoolers, yet adhering to a strict internal policy Lego chose to forfeit some pretty good profits because it doesn’t think war should be seen as child’s play.

In a 2010 Progress Report, the Lego Group explained its stance on toys and weapons on page 26.

“Guideline for weapons and conflict in LEGO experiences”

A large number of LEGO mini figures use weapons and are – assumedly – regularly being charged by each others’ weapons as part of children’s role play. In the LEGO Group, we acknowledge that conflict in play is especially prevalent among 4-9-year-old boys. An inner drive and a need to experiment with their own aggressive feelings in order to learn about other people’s aggressions exist in most children. This, in turn, enables them to handle and recognize conflict in non-play scenarios. As such, the LEGO Group sees conflict play as perfectly acceptable, and an integral part of children’s development.

We also acknowledge children’s well-proven ability to tell play from reality. However, to make sure to maintain the right balance between play and conflict, we have adhered to a set of unwritten rules for several years. In 2010, we have formalized these rules in a guideline for the use of conflict and weapons in LEGO products. The basic aim is to avoid realistic weapons and military equipment that children may recognize from hot spots around the world and to refrain from showing violent or frightening situations when communicating about LEGO products. At the same time, the purpose is for the LEGO brand not to be associated with issues that glorify conflicts and unethical or harmful behavior.

“We have a strict policy regarding military models, and therefore, we do not produce tanks, helicopters, etc. While we always support the men and women who serve their country, we prefer to keep the play experiences we provide for children in the realm of fantasy.”

In the same year, Lego also set out rules and guidelines for the use of weapons in its products. The aim was to avoid any realistic weapons and military themed equipment that children may recognize, as quoted above.

Move over, toys: scientists create LEGO replica of a nuclear spectrometer

A new model of a spectrometer was unveiled by Australian national nuclear research and development organisation (ANSTO); but this one is made of LEGOs.

Image via ANSTO.

Bbuilt by John Burfoot of Macquarie  ICT Innovations Centre (MacICT), the replica is absolutely stunning, and one of the goals is to get kids more interested in science.Burfoot, a science and robotics facilitator at MacICT, spent the model over several weeks. He said:

“About a third of the time went on the design, another third on building it and the final third on the programming,” said Burfoot, who has designed many robots for school education previously but not a scientific instrument until now. He described the experience as exciting, inspiring and a little bit scary. “It recaptured the flow or synergy you feel during the creative process—something that children who build robotic models can also experience.” When he encountered technical problems, he consulted with student engineers at Macquarie University to find solutions.

It’s also another reminder that LEGOs aren’t just toys – they’re educational tools as well. Six local school kids whose parents work at ANSTO will construct another Taipan model themselves, adding their own improvements and refinements.

Instrument Scientist, Kirrily Rule, who operates Taipan (the spectrometer) is very enthusiastic about this new resource:

”It’s very different than the LEGO I used as a kid. Much more than a toy, education officers can use the model to demonstrate physics to children and hopefully stimulate their interest in science,” said Rule. Like the original instrument, it has moving parts. “You can control how it moves, just like our Taipan, which bends like a snake,” said Rule.

Taipan is a triple-axis spectrometer developed for the study of collective motions of atoms in solids – and the replica mimics it almost exactly (with the obvious limitations of LEGO pieces). It even has a small glass prism used as a sample.

“We are using the prism to split the white light into the colours of the rainbow – which each have different wavelengths (and energies) – to show how the neutron’s energy can change during the interaction with the sample,” said Rule.“So instead of thermal neutrons in the LEGO model, we are using light. The concept is very similar.”

Instrument scientist Kirrily Rule (second from right) explains how ANSTO’s real triple axis spectrometer Taipan works to kids who have an interest in LEGO robotics. Image via ANSTO.

They also used a mirror-like material for the model to reflect the light from the prism.

“We used offcuts from the silicon panels that came from our Emu instrument, which brings another level of accuracy to the model,” explained Rule.

Dr Damien Kee, an education technology expert said that creations such as this encourage kids to think more creatively and to actively engage in scientific activities.

Now, ANSTO plans to build even more instruments from LEGOs – and personally, I think this is a great initiative.

Lego toys

Lego is investing millions to ditch petroleum-based plastic

The Danish-based Lego is one of the big companies in the world that’s actually making large scale efforts to lower its carbon footprint and run more sustainable business. They don’t seem to be doing it out of a fake corporate responsibility ethos either. Lego is actually innovating. I mean, when a company says it wants to ditch the raw material its business is based on for something that’s more expensive and which might not even exist yet, you know they actually mean it.

Lego toys

Image: Lego

Over three quarters of Lego’s carbon footprint is produced before the company even has the chance to do anything. That’s because the Lego bricks it manufactures – some 60 billion each year – are made from oil which takes up a lot of energy and emissions to extract and refine.

“You could say that it’s a logical place for us to find a way of reducing our environmental footprint,” says Roar Trangbaek, press officer for Lego Group. “If you look at our CO2 footprint as a company, the majority of our impact comes from offscreen activities—basically what happens before we receive any raw materials in our factory.”

Lego is already massively investing in wind energy to offset its emissions and uses FSC-certified cardboard for toy boxes. The impact is minimal at best, though. Lego needs some innovation to make that leap that really amounts to something. At this kind of level, you also need to be prepared to invest a lot of money, too.

The company says it invests $150 million in a new research center focused on finding the next sustainable material its Lego bricks could be made of. Lego says that its bricks will likely still be plastic, so it should look and feel the same. This is in important. What should change is how that plastic is made or where the raw material for the ABS comes from.

lego LHC

A Large Hadron Collider made out of Lego. How cool is this?

 

“We’re looking at every opportunity out there that’s more sustainable than what we have today,” Trangbeak says. That might involve recycled plastics, though it’s probably more likely to be something bio-based, because of the challenges of recycling.

The problem with recycling plastic, however, is quality control. You don’t really know the quality of the plastic or what else’s inside when you process materials coming from who knows where.

“Last year, we recycled the equivalent of around 70 million Lego bricks,” he says. “But we can do that within our factories because we can ensure the product is still in a pristine condition. We can’t compromise on the product quality or product safety—that means we know exactly what material we’re using and what’s inside of it,” says Trangbeak.

If they find the right material, it’s not only Lego that benefits. There are hundreds of toy manufacturers. There are thousands of companies that make plastic products, for that matter.

“In a global perspective, we’re only a small player,” Trangbeak says. “We make 60 billion Lego bricks each year, but the bricks are quite small, and the total consumption of plastics is small. So we can’t solve it alone. Hopefully we can inspire others to do it as well.”

robot lego

Worm ‘brain’ controls LEGO robot – what this means for the human brain

One of the most interesting projects in science today are the  BRAIN Initiative in the US and the Human Brain Project in Europe, which aim to map all the synapse connections in the human brain, or connectome, and ultimately simulate it. It’s an ambitious project with numerous challenges, but the possible benefits are well worth it. We could finally deconstruct neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s for instance, which would make finding a treatment and maybe even a cure a lot easier. The greatest insight however is a lot more philosophical: a potential definite answer to what is consciousness. It’s a question we’ve all asked one way or the other at least once in our lives, but deep down do we really want to know? I’m not sure, either. Anyway, when you’re undertaking a complex task such as mapping the human brain, you need to start simple. Analogously, you start with a worm’s brain.

A worm’s brain in a LEGO body

robot lego

The OpenWorm project is an online community project that wants to  reverse-engineer C elegans or the simple roundworm. We’ve written about the roundworm simply because it’s just a lab favorite for scientists, for obvious reasons. It breeds fast, so it’s great for studying genetics, it’s practically immortal so it’s great to test basically anything, and as far as neuroscience is concerned it has a tiny brain, which again makes it perfect. C elegans only has 302 neurons and 7,000 synapses, compared to 86 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapse found in a typical human brain. But creating algorithms to simulate the functions of even such a tiny winy brain is a huge task for the scientists and programmers from the UK, Ireland, Russia and the US. They’ve proved it can be done, though.

The first map of the synaptic connections, or connectome, of the brain of C. elegans in 1986 and a refined draft in 2006. Now, the OpenWorm team not only simulated the C. elegans brain, but also uploaded the simulation into lego robot that has all the equivalent limited body parts that the worm has – a sonar sensor that acts as a nose, and motors that replace its motor neurons on each side of its body. In the video below, you see what came out of it.

As you noticed, the robot moves forward or backward, and tripping the nose sensor grinds the robot to a halt. Ok, doesn’t seem impressive at first glance, but what sets it apart from your typical robot is that all these commands weren’t pre-programmed! The robot’s whole behavior is guided by algorithms that work with the worm’s connectome, labeling  sensory neurons, motor neurons, and interneurons which connect the two. For instance, stimulating the food sensor made the robot move forward.

Obviously, not all of the worm’s sensors were stimulated, nor simulated. The ultimate goal is to simulate the entire C. elegans brain, but for now this is truly a powerful demonstration of what can be obtained.

This lucky tortoise can walk again thanks to a custom-built LEGO wheelchair

When it comes to human prosthetics, there are usually many options available – from simple frames or tools, to advanced, electronic prosthetics. But life isn’t as easy for turtles; such was the case of Blade, a German tortoise with a growth disorder that left his legs so weak that he couldn’t hold himself up. Now, thanks to the ingenuity of this veterinarian, Blade can easily move around using a LEGO wheelchair.

Image by Action Press/REX

When Blade’s human companion, Iris Peste, noticed that the turtle couldn’t get around, he immediately went to the vet; there, a whole bunch of problems were uncovered, including a nasty worm and a debilitating growth disorder. The verdict was pretty grim – Blade won’t be able to walk for a long time.


But that’s where the good news starts. The doctor took it as a challenge, and he started to create a custom-fit solution. Without much time wasted, Dr. Carsten Plischke borrowed some LEGO blocks from her son and started to work. She was able to fit two sets of wheels to the underside of Blade’s shell so that he could then use his legs to propel him forward, basically moving around like in a belly wheel chair.

Image by Action Press/REX

With treatment and time, Blade will probably be able to move around normally, but until that, this is very creative and cheap solution to his problem. This serves as yet another reminder that if your pet has a similar problem, there are ways to help him move around. Dr Plischke said:

‘For people there are walkers, rollators or prostheses but for animals there are no companies that produce something like that’.

Images by Action Press/REX

The Five Coolest Things People Have Made Using LEGO

Over the years, LEGO building blocks have been a source of hours of endless entertainment for kids (and kids at heart) worldwide. Encouraging creativity and unintentionally rewarding children for selfishly bogarting all the pieces of a particular color, all sorts of interesting things can be made out of a decently sized tub of LEGO bricks.

However, there will always be people who do their best to go beyond the acceptable limit for awesomeness (and subsequently ruin playtime for everyone else). In sharp contrast to the “cars” (four wheels attached to a couple of long bricks), “buildings” (four tall walls of different-colored bricks), and “robots” (leftover pieces and random plates that nobody else wanted) that children make on a Sunday afternoon, these five LEGO masterpieces were made by enthusiasts who seem to take LEGO a bit too seriously.

A 3D Printer

Photo by Nbanerjee.

Printers are nasty box-type things that never work properly when you need them to. Add “3D” before the word “printer”, though, and it automatically becomes amazing. Add “Lego” to that, and people’s heads will start exploding within a fifty-mile radius. Armed with this knowledge (and a ton of LEGO bricks), Arthur Sacek went on to build a fully functional 3D printer, the LEGO 3D Milling Machine, consisting almost entirely of Lego pieces. The only part of this machine that isn’t a LEGO brick is the drill bit that it uses to shape foam into accurate representations of digital models. Actually, this isn’t the only thing he’s managed to build using LEGO pieces, but by far, it’s one of the most remarkable. In fact, there’s a 2.0 version of the 3D printer that holds the foam using something that functions like a pig spit, leading us to wonder if a LEGO chicken roaster is on the way as well.

Guns

Guns are already inherently cool, but guns made out of LEGO? That’s like making a salad made out of bacon, cheese, and more bacon – not a good idea, but an undeniably awesome one that everyone else will want to imitate. Sebastian Dick came up with the idea to make a minigun out of – you guessed it – LEGO, and the result is a colorful 8-barrel powerhouse that shoots rubber bands at an approximate speed of 11 bands per second. That’s not the only “real” LEGO gun in existence, either; in fact, there are enough of them in real life to make the Punisher happy. Jack Streat has made fully functional and presumably – hopefully – non-lethal versions of submachine guns, rifles, and pistols, which should probably make anyone think twice about bullying LEGO nerds from now on.

Cloning Machines

By using LEGO MindStorms software, Andreas Dreier created the Cube Replicator, which actually sounds more like a throwaway gadget from an old Star Trek movie than an awe-inspiring device of massive humanity-enslaving potential. The machine scans LEGO cubes made out of different-colored bricks, analyzes them, and then proceeds to make exact copies of them using the same components.

Also, take a look at this contraption, which scans any object and determines the kind and color of LEGO pieces necessary to make a LEGO version of it as similar in appearance to the original object as possible. If that doesn’t scare you, well… Guess we’ll just see you in the slave mines when our LEGO overlords inevitably take over the planet.

A Gigantic Ball Contraption

What’s the point of a gigantic LEGO ball contraption, you ask? Why not make something practical, like perhaps a LEGO business phone, or a LEGO laptop? Well, if you feel the need to ask in the first place, that only means you’re missing the point. Come on, It’s a gigantic LEGO ball contraption. What’s not to like about that? Seriously, just watch this video and tell me that this doesn’t fill you with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

A Lego House

Photo by Gaius Cornelius.

In a special Lego-themed episode of his television program about bringing favorite toys of the past into the modern age, television presenter James May pushed LEGO to its logical limits. Five years ahead of that singer who looks like Ron Weasley, May unleashed upon the world a LEGO house – a perfectly habitable structure made entirely out of multi-colored LEGO bricks, built on an empty space in Dorking, Surrey. With the help of 1200 volunteers, 3.3 million LEGO pieces were used to build the house. Unfortunately, it had to be dismantled because it was too expensive to send to LEGOLAND in Windsor, and because the owner of the land it was built on needed the space for a decidedly non-LEGO structure. Knowing May, though, he and his friends Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond probably thought of driving through the poor house during a Top Gear taping.

Kind of makes you want to disassemble that LEGO “race car” you’re so proud of, no?

(c) Nature

New female scientist figurines introduced by LEGO

(c) LEGO

(c) LEGO

There’s a huge gender gap between men and women in science that can be tied to early segregation in childhood (boys with math, girls with humanities), continuing with bias against women pursuing science, either in the classroom, academia or industry later on in life. Efforts to close this gender gap are made, and progress, albeit slow by all accounts, seems promising. Efforts to close the gender gap in science shouldn’t be limited to classrooms and institutions, though – cultural awareness is equally important. Recently, LEGO announced it will soon introduce three new female scientist figurines, as part of the upcoming Minifigures Series 11 collection.

The three new figures, which represent women at a research institute include three scientists and their subsequent labs. The Astronomer looks out at the night sky through a LEGO telescope, the Paleontologist inspects a LEGO tyrannosaurus, and the Chemist mixes the contents of two LEGO Erlenmeyer flasks. Still, the LEGO mini-figurines are dominated by male representations, despite last year a female surgeon, a zookeeper and a scientist were introduced.

science-women-lego

(c) LEGO

Science remains institutionally sexist. Despite some progress, women scientists are still paid less, promoted less frequently, win fewer grants and are more likely to leave research than similarly qualified men, according to Nature. In some countries like China and Portugal, gender inequality is less discrepant and at times in history it was actually almost 50-5o balanced. The graph below shows the gender gap in U.S. sciences closing in, from an extremely biased society in the 1970’s to a less biased, yet still imbalanced, society in present day.

(c) Nature

(c) Nature

These are actually designs assembled with lego bricks, but based on the same principle, scientists have devised a new method for DNA self-assembly. (c) Kurt V. Gothelf/Yonggang Ke et al

DNA ‘Lego’ bricks used to build 3D nano-objects

These are actually designs assembled with lego bricks, but based on the same principle, scientists have devised a new method for DNA self-assembly. (c)  Kurt V. Gothelf/Yonggang Ke et al

These are actually designs assembled with lego bricks, but based on the same principle, scientists have devised a new method for DNA self-assembly. (c) Kurt V. Gothelf/Yonggang Ke et al

In a breakthrough for nanotechnology, researchers at the Harvard’s Wyss Institute have found the right mix of chemistry and molecular programming to trick DNA strands to fit together perfectly, just like Lego bricks, and thus form various objects and shapes, all based on the scientists’ software design. Thus, a myriad of objects made out of DNA were created in the Harvard labs, from a space shuttle, to letters of the alphabet, to honeycombs. The scientists believe these resulting tiny DNA-based structures could serve a great purpose in medical research and treatment, as well as electronic devices.

The scientists’ method relies on synthetic strands of DNA that take in just 32 nucleotides, or molecular bits of genetic code. These can bind to as many as four neighboring strands or bricks. Thus, two bricks connect to one another at a 90-degree angle to form a 3D shape, just like a pair of two-stud Lego bricks. Each individual brick is coded in such a way that they self-assemble in a desired 3-D shape. What’s fantastic is that this method allows for intricate shapes to built on an extremely tiny scale opening up a slew of applications. For instance, a cube built up from 1,000 such bricks (10 by 10 by 10) measures just 25 nanometers in width – thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair!

“Once we know how to compile the correct code of complex shapes and add it to the synthetic DNA strands, everything else is simple and natural,” said Yonggang Ke, a chemist at Harvard University. “Those DNA strands are like smart Lego bricks that know exactly where to go by themselves.”

The research is based on previous work from the same Wyss lab when the scientists used DNA to build 2D shapes. The 3-D assembly was made possible by using the exact right combinations of nucleotides (adenosine, thymine, cytosine and guanine) in the synthesized strands, so that the DNA’s base pair molecules bind to one another in a desired fashion. The process takes a while though. One shape resembling a cube took 72 hours for self-assembly.

Playing with DNA

So far, 102 different 3-D shapes were created using a 1,000-brick template.

These are computer-generated 3D models (left) and corresponding 2D projection microscopy images (right) of nanostructures self-assembled from synthetic DNA strands called DNA bricks. (c) Yonggang Ke, Wyss Institute, Harvard University

These are computer-generated 3D models (left) and corresponding 2D projection microscopy images (right) of nanostructures self-assembled from synthetic DNA strands called DNA bricks. (c) Yonggang Ke, Wyss Institute, Harvard University

This isn’t the first time 3-D molecular assembly from DNA has been made though. Previously, scientists used to rely on a method called the Origami method, which works by folding a single DNA strand into a desired shape. The technique is rather obtuse, however, and not nearly as effective as the “lego” method from Harvard. Origami requires custom “staple” DNA strands to fold the main, “scaffold” strand into a desired 3-D shape. In contrast, the lego method makes for a much easier assembly.

“This is a simple, versatile and robust method,” the study’s senior author, Peng Yin, said in a news release.

Still, considering the required applications both Origami and Lego methods can now be used by scientists, improving their toolbox. The scientists are confident that a range of new applications might be possible in molecular assembly, like complex nanostructures that could be used as smart drug delivery devices inside the human body.

“Personally, I am enthusiastic about the potential application of DNA nanotechnology to make intelligent drug-delivery vehicles and to arrange and wire molecular electronic components,” said  Kurt Gothelf, director of the Center for DNA Nanotechnology at Aarhus University in Denmark.

Findings were detailed in the journal Science.

Lego Space Shuttle

The shuttle is back in space, it’s made out of LEGO though [VIDEO]

Lego Space Shuttle

A lot of people were left disheartened when the iconic space shuttle program was canceled last year. Though it’s now been turned into a museum exhibit, the shuttle has remained in the minds and hearts of millions as a symbol of man’s journey towards the stars. Romanian Raul Oaida made his own tribute, and put a LEGO model shuttle into space via a weather balloon, to an altitude of 35,000 m. The whole event was documented in a youtube video, posted right below.

The Lego shuttle was strapped to a 1,600g meteo balloon filled with helium, along with a  GoPro Hero camera, which recorded its ascent, and a Spot GPS  to track its movement. The whole rig was only $1000, a trifle of the price tag such an event would’ve cost ten years ago, showing just how technology has evolved and allowed anyone passionate enough to accomplish amazing things. The LEGO shuttle eventually landed about 240 kilometers away from the original launch site, as detailed by Raul on his blog.

A similar feat was accomplished by a Canadian teen duo at the beginning of the year when they put the LEGO man, holding Canada’s flag,  24km into the upper atmosphere from where the Earth’s curvature can be seen. A similar helium balloon was used then as well.

The launch took place in Germany, since Romania’s flight clearance procedure was way too bureaucratic.

International Space Station Lego

Astronaut builds lego ISS on board the ISS

International Space Station Lego

So we heard you like the International Space Station, so we made an ISS inside the ISS. Humor aside, I was pleasantly surprised this morning to read that Lego teamed up with NASA to assemble a scale model of the International Space Station in space.

Flight engineer Satoshi Furukawa, which we featured earlier on ZME when he played baseball with himself in space, spent two hours assembling the lego pieces of the scale replica inside a glove box, such that any hazards resulting from pieces flying way and jamming equipment could be averted. He then talked a bit about the International Space Station, as part of a series of educational documentaries for kids in schools.

“Kids like LEGO and when they see LEGO floating in space, I’m sure they are excited,” Furukawa said. “Well, I hope this experience inspires them to make greater efforts to study science and technology.”

Furukawa has definitely earned his “Lego Guy” nickname, as he also built Lego models of lunar exploration and Mars rovers, as well as the Hubble Space Telescope – all in space.   After shooting the video, he had to disassemble and stow the kit to be returned to Earth.


Photos and more about the story at Collect Space.