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LuxeSci Show Notes: Bonus Interviews - Legos with Science Actually

Hello again fancy folks.  Welcome to Luxesci where we reignite wonder by exploring the intersection of science and luxury.  It’s time again for our holiday episode.  This year I’m joined by a scicom friend and I’m so excited.

Our guest today is Ben Salles who is the brains behind the scicomm account “Science Actually”.  Ben and his team creates daily science content that is fun and engaging and the graphics are out-of-this world. He’s also part of the space-themed podcast, Space Case.  Ben and I met Scicomm Twitter and I’m so excited that we finally get to collaborate.

Ben, do you want to tell everyone what we’re discussing today?  And why do Legos resonate with you?

Ben - Lego history


  • Did you know that Legos originally came in only 5 colors, red, yellow, blue, white and transparent

  • Using data from Rebrickable (link),  the Washington Post created a cool set of graphics of Lego colors throughout the years. (link) 

  • Over 200 colors have been used but the total number of colors in rotation from 1978 - 1989 never went over 2 dozen

  • Pink was introduced in the 1990s with the advent of sets aimed at girls and the colors kept increasing

  • Palette peaked at over 110 colors in 2004

  • Palette was trimmed to about 60, which yields about 3500 different types of bricks

  • The palette is about 70 - which includes way more colors for skin tones

  • Some interesting science behind the different color palettes is that those palettes influence how people see the gender associated with the set. 

  • “Palette is a really important way that who a toy is for is communicated,” said Lisa Dinella, a professor at Monmouth University who studies children’s toy play along with gendered experiences. “Our science is really clear that children and consumers notice the color palettes, and that they know that those color palettes are associated with particular genders.”

Chemistry (from the Chemistry is Life blog)

  • So organic chemistry was not my best subject in school but fortunately this is inorganic chemistry

  • Side note - all the chemistry labs i took have made me an excellent cocktail creator

  • Currently, since 1963, Legos are made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). It is a thermoplastic made from monomers of the 3 chemicals in the name.

  • Thermoplastic - substances that are pliable on heating and harden on cooling and are able to repeat the process

  • Monomer - molecule that reacts with other monomer to form polymer chains or 3-D networks

  • Acrylonitrile - gives the blocks heat resistance

  • Butadiene - good impact strength

  • Styrene - rigidity

  • To make Legos, the ABS is heated until malleable (around 450F) then injected into molds for the bricks. 

  • The pressure in the molds is very high

  • An average 2X2 Lego brick can withstand around 4240 newtons (that’s roughly the equivalent of having 954 lbs on a 2x2 brick

Lego Science Fun Facts

  1. There were 3 Lego figures orbiting Jupiter on the Juno probe

  2. Jupiter/Zeus

  3. Juno/Hera

  4. Galileo Galili

  5. Cast of aluminum instead of plastic

  6. The use of Lego was credited with significantly reducing the number of students who quit an introductory physics course at Flinders University in Adelaide

  7. Lego Mindstorm was used by CERN to highlight the challenges of nuclear research

Structural Engineering (How stuff works article)

  1. Static loading and dynamic loading

  2. Static loading - weight and pressure on an object while it’s stationary

  3. Dynamic loading - how forces act on an object while its in use

  4. To test with Lego, build a bridge and then send a car with different weights across it

  5. Speaking of bridges, suspension bridges out of Lego demonstrate tension and compression

  6. Tension - pulling forces on objects

  7. Compression - pressure on objects



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