lego plantLEGO has certainly brought plenty of joy to the lives of little ones as well as over the years, where its latest advancement to remain relevant in today’s fast changing culture would be the adaptation of LEGO video games, a LEGO movie, as well as LEGO Fusion that bridges the virtual and physical worlds. Having said that, LEGO is not all about play and entertainment, as Ludovico Cademartiri, an Iowa State University assistant professor of materials science and engineering, relies on LEGO bricks as a scientific tool to study plant growth.

In an effort to understand the various environmental effects on plant growth, including variations in climate and soil characteristics which affect root growth, Cademartiri was looking for highly controlled environments which will be able to expose entire plants to environmental effects including the likes of nutrients, water, oxygen gradients as well as physical obstacles for the roots.

Greenhouses were not suitable since they only create fairly controlled environments for entire plants, but have one major drawback of being homogeneous. To rely on microfluidic technologies, on the other hand, might help him achieve his objective – if he has an unlimited budget to work with, that is, since they happen to be expensive, relatively complex and is difficult to scale up.

LEGO bricks come in to save the day then, and in the words of Cademartiri, “Forget for a minute that they’re used as toys. They’re actually pieces of high-quality plastic, built to extraordinary standards of precision, that you can use to build stuff. They happen to be a good example of how something simple can solve a complex design problem.”

The use of LEGO bricks helped Cademartiri and his research team construct engineered environments for plant and root studies. Pretty neat, don’t you think so? [Press Release]

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