To some children, Legos are a first primer to serious architecture. Though in the fun guise of play, most of us don’t recall the strategy, composing and hours of constructing, erecting and regrouping to begin again, that was involved in a serious afternoon of Lego assembly.
Science, who is no stranger to hours of constructive exploration, often strays from the ordinary to investigate and find answers, and when searching for a solution to fill a laboratory need one team did just that.
Researchers at Iowa State University wanted to investigate what effects the environment has on plant development.
In order to actually examine how changes in the climate affect the soil and root growth, they had to set up controlled atmospheres in order to carry out the study. They would need to conduct the experiment in surroundings that allowed optimal growing conditions. Looking for the perfect container system didn’t prove easy, as many requirements for the agricultural production needed to be met in order for the process to be successful.
The scientists thought of a perfect material to construct the environments for the plants – Legos.
They looked to the toy for its versatility, including the ability to be reused, sanitized and its relatively inexpensive cost compared to other available systems.
The Lego plant containers allowed the researchers to look at the soil and root growth of the plants and replicate a variety of environmental and climate based conditions. The different colors shown in the blocks represent the various nutrients that are present in the plants.
The researchers noted:
We here demonstrate that LEGO bricks are highly convenient and versatile building blocks for building cm-scale engineered environments for plant roots. Their modularity enables the fabrication of environments with highly controlled structural and chemical heterogeneities that are suitable for convenient quantitative studies of environmental effects on plant phenotypes.
It turns out mixing Legos and science is a playful solution.
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