August 18, 2022

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Legos within the Lab

On Aug. 5, 2011, the Juno spacecraft blasted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral and began its 5-year journey to Jupiter, the most important planet in our photo voltaic system. The spacecraft carried a mass of scientific gear designed to find out parameters just like the planet’s composition and the quantity of water current, in addition to map out its gravity area. Juno additionally carried some uncommon passengers: three tiny Lego figures. They represented the Roman sky and thunder god Jupiter, his spouse Juno, and Galileo Galilei, the scientist who studied Jupiter’s 4 largest moons in 1610.  

The Lego determine cargo was meant to advertise curiosity in science and cosmology amongst children. Each of the space-traveling characters are the identical dimension as typical Lego figures, however they’re forged in a “special space-grade aluminum,” according to Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator. “They have gone through all the testing to make sure that they fit on our spacecraft in a way that is like our other science instruments.” 

Unfortunately, the Lego passengers will face a fiery finish. The spacecraft is at the moment orbiting Jupiter nevertheless it has obtained a strict departure date so as to get rid of house particles and keep away from a collision with one among Jupiter’s 79 moons — which may trigger organic contamination. Therefore, in September 2025, Juno shall be deliberately de-orbited by decreasing its pace and crashing into the environment of Jupiter, the place it is going to expend.   

The Lego figures of the Roman god Jupiter, his spouse Juno, and Galileo Galilei made it to house in 2011. (Credit: NASA)

The Lego figures, which traveled around 2 billion miles from Earth to Jupiter, will meet their destruction in Jupiter’s environment. Whatever stays of them will in all probability reside on Jupiter for billions of years and whip round at tons of of miles an hour with the planet’s winds.  

Lego elements haven’t been restricted to house journeys: The iconic yellow figures have assisted groups from a variety of scientific fields. For one, they’ve participated in experiments in so-called acoustic time reversal, wherein sound waves are targeted at a single level. The technique was used by Brigham Young researchers to knock over a single Lego determine whereas others remained upright.

Beyond enabling Lego bowling, targeted sound waves may produce noise cancellation by amassing the sound and focusing it someplace out of earshot. The approach may additionally direct sound waves onto kidney stones to interrupt them up, or ship audio alerts to submarines which might be undetectable by enemies. It may even help you speak to a single individual in a crowd with out others listening to. 

In one other analysis asset, Lego figures can face up to excessive chilly. The UK’s Lancaster University’s low-temperature physics group cooled a Lego determine to the coldest temperature on Earth, only a few thousandths of a level above absolute zero (minus 459.67 levels Fahrenheit). The Lego determine survived the ordeal, and so did 4 bricks assembled in a stack. 

What began off as an amusing experiment brainstormed in a bar yielded some useful scientific outcomes — particularly that the stack of Lego bricks offered higher thermal insulation than the costly high-performance insulating supplies usually utilized in low temperature analysis.  

Legos can endure even the coldest temperature on Earth. (Credit: Josh Chawner, Lancaster University)

Materials with low thermal conductivity assist isolate elements to obtain the extraordinarily low temperatures required for this form of work. When they’re clipped collectively,  thermal resistance could emerge from the voids between adjoining blocks and the comparatively small space of contact between them.

In one other instance, MIT engineers are developing a system constructed totally of Lego bricks to maneuver tiny quantities of liquid. This invention may assist labs work extra effectively by speeding up drug security testing processes, for instance. And European Space Agency scientist Detlef Koschny constructed Lego fashions of the Rosetta house probe and lander to assist visualize and reveal their performance in conferences. 

What makes Legos so helpful:  Labs use the plastic bricks as a result of they’re made to actual specs and are available in a normal dimension irrespective of the place they’re purchased. This ensures uniformity in gear world wide.  Plus, Lego-based instruments could be modular and simply altered for various experiments. The copyright for the Lego has expired, permitting scientists to make their very own bricks, for instance, from a distinct materials. 

The youngsters’s toys finally present an infinite vary of buildings constructed from precision-engineered unit components (and charming figures).

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