April 4, 2012 at 9:13 AM ET
The process of making synthetic bone is, as you might imagine, fairly arduous. But the end result is undeniably useful; synthetic bone can be used in everything from medical implants to construction materials. Instead of doing the most laborious parts of the synthetic bone creation process themselves, scientists at Cambridge University have turned to LEGO kits.
In order to make synthetic bone, scientists have have to take a sample, dip it into a beaker filled with protein and calcium, rinse that in water, and dip it into another beaker containing protein and phosphate. This needs to be done repeatedly until a bone-like compound is built. That’s time-consuming. The Cambridge researchers decided to automate the process using a LEGO Mindstorms robotics kit.
For the uninitiated: Mindstorms is not the LEGO kit you played with at age 6. It’s a kit for slightly older kids (and adults), filled with motors, sensors and microprocessors. In this case, the researchers used the kit to build a crane. They attached the starting sample to the end of the crane and programmed it to dip the sample into the various solutions. Lo and behold, a synthetic bone-making Lego machine.
Now the Cambridge scientists can spend less time on the sample-dipping process and more time on their research, which aims to produce a synthetic material that has a low-energy cost and a high similarity to human bone tissue.
Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist.
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