LEGO-powered cutting-edge microscopy

LEGO-powered microscope

NanoJ-Fluidics device built with LEGO. 

- Ricardo Henriques

Researchers have come up with an inexpensive, automated way to image biological samples, using the children’s toy, LEGO.

In the latest issue of Nature Communications, scientists at the Crick, UCL and Aix University in Marseille describe a novel device, built with LEGO parts, that can be adapted to most microscopes.

“Sometimes the best solutions to complex biological questions are remarkably low-tech,” says Ricardo Henriques, who runs a satellite lab at the Crick, and led the project.

“By developing hardware that uses inexpensive LEGO components as its building blocks, we’ve built an accessible tool that delivers customisable cutting-edge microscopy at a fraction of the cost.”

The device, called NanoJ-Fluidics (and nicknamed Pumpy McPumpface), enables researchers to observe cells in a highly customisable format. For the very first time, researchers can observe samples of cells at well-defined moments in time, for example when they are dividing or become sick. After this initial round of observation, the LEGO device can manipulate the liquid environment of the cells in a completely automated manner, enabling subsequent imaging of the same cells at a much higher nanoscale resolution.

The LEGO hardware and accompanying software are fully open-source, enabling other researcher groups to make their own devices. Thanks to this open science approach, NanoJ-Fluidics has already been successfully adopted by over 10 labs across the world.

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