Stanford University bioengineering researchers hacked a Lego Mindstorms robotics kit to produce a liquid-handling robot for use by students of all ages.
Stanford University assistant professor of bioengineering Ingmar Riedel-Kruse’s laboratory focuses on lowering the barriers to life-science projects for people of all ages and backgrounds. Epitomizing the team’s approach is its recent open access hack of Lego Mindstorms robotics kits. The hack produced a liquid-handling mechanized miniature laboratory. With Lego already a key feature in many educational robotics programs, the Stanford team saw an opportunity to integrate the work with the wet sciences – biology, chemistry and medicine.
Far less expensive than the automated systems used in many biotechnology and university labs, the modified Lego kits are precise, efficient and effective. They are able to handle drops of liquid as small as a coarse grain of salt and transfer liquids to and from various laboratory containers, including pipettes and multi-well plates. As well as coding instructions, the open source paper includes a variety of experiments for students of elementary, middle and high school age, using common household products.
Other ways scientists and innovators are helping to improve the accessibility of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is through DIY kits and affordable equipment. A foldable, portable paper microscope that costs USD 1 allows anyone to carry it with them wherever they go, and a new modular toy and coding app allows anyone to build their own drone. Where else could the affordability of the DIY-aspect of learning be applied?