Wednesday, 16 July 2014 10:20

LEGO Lab Proposal Has Exciting Possibilities for Cell Biologists

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DSC 0465Can cell biology find its place in the LEGO world?
ASCB photo by John Fleischman
"ALEster" is the pseudonym of a self–described postdoc in molecular biology who wants to build a highly portable cell biology lab, including cell culture incubator, laminar flow hood, and fluorescence microscope, that you could take everywhere you go. It occupies 15 square inches (.381 square meters) of floor space. ALEster is an AFOL, that is, an Adult Fan of LEGO, so his pocket lab was designed with LEGO bricks, complete with PI, Professor Umami, and postdoctoral fellows, the red-haired imaging expert Lory Rhodamine, and the thickly bespectacled biochemist Sam Emsa. The result is detailed, accurate, and a marvel. ALEster submitted his lab design to the official LEGO Ideas site last winter in hopes of attracting 10,000 endorsements, becoming an official LEGO idea set, and inspiring a new generation of bench jockeys.

However, fans of science, of women in science, and of LEGO can also take note of LEGO's recent announcement that a new "female minifigure set" of women scientists—a paleontologist, an astronomer, and a chemist—will be featured later this year in a new "Research Institute" LEGO series. 

AFOL are a serious bunch (they even held a "LEGO Fans and the People Who Love Them" event last March at SXSW, the ultra-hip, high-tech and music festival in Austin, TX) and will judge ALEster's entry on its merits. Yet serious cell biologists can see immediate advantages to a 15-square-inch lab.

• It would be the perfect prop for elevator talks with politicians about science funding. "Basic cell research is so important that they made a LEGO set out of it," you could say, backing them into a corner. "Think of us as the first responders of life science or the pirates of the NIH."
• Instead of bringing kids to the lab who might touch something, you can bring your LEGO lab to the kids, telling them, "I work on the building blocks of life."
• Cut cell culture costs. Instead of the millions of pesky cells and all that cell culture medium you need to fill a 10cm dish, a 10mm LEGO dish would only need a few thousand cells and a few microliters of medium.
• You can tell your PI, "I did some work in the lab this weekend, but despite my best efforts, I just couldn't seem to get any results." You won't be lying this time.
• In your LEGO lab, you don't need to write grants, your experiments work every time, plus you can pack up and go home to your castle at the end of an 8-hour day.

Though the set is close to perfection, we at the ASCB Post have a few ideas to add:

• LEGO-sized sticky notes for those passive-aggressive messages to your LEGO-sized labmates.
• A mini MBoC journal with an actual-size super-high-resolution image on the mini-cover.
• Some new characters including Joe Impecunious, an 11-years-and-counting grad student; Meredith Raze, the undergrad who contaminates the lab's precious primary human neural stem cells; and Dr. Revision, the dreaded third reviewer.

To support this very cool LEGO proposal, vote here

Christina Szalinski

Christina is a science writer for the American Society for Cell Biology. She earned her Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh.

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