Charley Cameron

Cambridge Engineers Use LEGO Bricks to Grow Synthetic Bone

by , 03/29/12

Lego Crane, University Of Cambridge, Google Science Fair, Google Lego, Lego Engineer

Designers everywhere continue to wow us with LEGO creations like robotic arms and fully functional printers, and now a group of engineers is even working on using the bright stacking blocks to grow bones! In a video created for Google’s Science Fair, a team at the University of Cambridge shows us how they are working on the production of fake bone, and how LEGO Mindstorm cranes are some of the most crucial tools in the process.


Lego Crane, University Of Cambridge, Google Science Fair, Google Lego, Lego Engineer

“To make the bone-like substance you take a sample, then you dip it into one beaker of calcium and protein, then rinse it in some water and dip in into another beaker of phosphate and protein – you have to do it over and over and over again to build up the compound,” explained Daniel Strange, a PhD Engineering student who works on the project. Rather than hire, say, a student researcher to stand over a set of beakers, delicately repeating the same dipping action for days on end, the team instead constructed two programmable cranes from a Lego Mindstorm Kit.

As Physorg reported, Lego Mindstorms “contain microprocessors, motors, and sensors that can be programmed to perform basic tasks on repeat,” making it ideal for the repetitive lightweight process. As a cheap, simple robot, the Lego Cranes will, once told what do to, “do the same thing very precisely over and over again, so a day later I can come back and see a fully made sample,” continued Strange.

And while it might initially strike one as odd to entrust a major component of scientific research to a construction kit marketed to ages 10+, Michelle Oyne a Lecturer in the Department of Engineering explained: “a lot of the things we use around the lab are household objects, things we’ve picked up at the home goods store, so our robots just fit in with that mindset… the importance of science is the creativity in going forward, it’s not what tools you use to get there.” Unless, of course, that material is LEGO.

The Engineering team are working on the production of synthetic bone as an alternative to bone grafts, which can be considered “risky and greatly increase recovery time,” The University explained, “The team at Cambridge are working on hydroxyapatite–gelatin composites to create synthetic bone, and the work is generating considerable interest due to the low energy costs and improved similarity to the tissues they are intended to replace.”

Google’s Science Fair is slated to take place on April 1st, with 13-18 year olds from around the world introducing their “interesting, creative projects that are relevant to the world today,” in partnership with LEGO, naturally. Check out their video of the LEGO Mindstorm Cranes at Cambridge University here.

+ Google Science Fair

+ Cambridge University

Via Physorg

All Images Screen Grab from Video: Google Science Fair, How Robots can Aid Scientific Research (with Lego)

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