LEGO2NANO - The LEGO microscope challenge

18 September 2013

LEGO2NANO - The LEGO microscope challenge

The Challenge: “In one week, can 32 young scientists and designers from China and the UK develop a new type of low-cost scanning probe microscope, powerful enough to study the nano world? And can this device transform science education in Chinese high schools? Tsinghua University, Peking University and University College London team up with the LEGO Foundation to invent, make and market their ideas”

Experts said they couldn’t do it… THEY NEARLY DID!

Four interdisciplinary teams competed to build and present a working Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) capable of seeing objects only a millionth of a millimeter in size – far smaller than anything an optical microscope can observe – with impressive results. The Summer School involved talks and hands-on advice from design, making, hacking, crowdsourcing, LEGO and nanotechnology experts, as well as consultations with Chinese high-school students, and visits to Beijing’s make/hackerspaces and huge electronics markets.

After the exciting experimental week and a nail-biting race to the finish at Tsinghua University, Institute of Making members and their new colleagues in China are now taking the project forward in the MakeSpace and at London Centre for Nanotechnology.

Their aim is to refine the winning design to develop an open source AFM that can be built by high school students around the world, making use of LEGO, Arduino, cheap 3D printable parts and local components. Research-grade AFMs typically cost over £60,000 or more, but by using less specific, low cost AFMs, experiments can be carried out across the world, with a far larger amount of collected data shared and compared – the start of an exciting citizen science project.

Keep an eye on our Research pages for new developments…

Read much more about the summer school on the project wiki, and Tsinghua University's experimental learning hub

Recent press:


In Chinese:

People's Daily
Beijing Daily
Beijing Times
Xinhua News Agency