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YouTube // BrainCraft
YouTube // BrainCraft

How LEGO Helps Blind People See

YouTube // BrainCraft
YouTube // BrainCraft

Matthew Shifrin works to make LEGO kits accessible to blind people. Along with help from his family friend Lilya Frinkel, Shifrin became an expert LEGO model builder, developing a scheme to translate visual LEGO assembly instructions into Braille. Shifrin wrote:

Lilya could make just about anything accessible for the blind. Making things accessible was a challenge she enjoyed, but LEGO was different. It was impossible to Braille the blueprints. The instruction manuals had no words, and they were too complicated to be turned into raised-line drawings. Building a model required so many steps that I couldn't copy them all. LEGO was the only thing that stubbornly resisted adaptation.

Or so I thought.

For my thirteenth birthday, Lilya had custom made instructions for the Battle of Almut, a Middle Eastern domed castle. How had she done it? Where did she find text-based instructions?

It turned out that she didn't find them--she created them! Lilya wrote out the instructions step by step, describing every blueprint, giving names to every kind of LEGO piece, figuring out the most logical sequence for a blind person to follow. She also sorted the LEGO pieces, putting the pieces necessary for each step into a Ziploc bag and labeling each bag in Braille.

Shifrin has begun posting these instructions on his website.

In this 13-minute documentary, Vanessa Hill visits Shifrin to explore his work. This is not just about LEGO, it's about spatial perception, which is fascinating stuff. If you're sighted, keep an eye out for the Braille display Shifrin uses—that device pops up one line of Braille at a time, and along with the attached keyboard, allows easy access to long sets of Braille instructions.

Enjoy:

If you liked that, you might enjoy this outtake video in which Shifrin's screen-reader reads out 10,000 digits of Pi from a YouTube comment. (Then he flips it into Russian mode and does it again.) This is a nice mini-demo of how screen-reader software works, even for silly stuff like YouTube comments.

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New LEGO Set Lets Harry Potter Fans Apparate to the Hogwarts Great Hall
LEGO
LEGO

After reading the books and watching the movies, you may worry you've run out of ways to experience the world of Harry Potter at home. But soon, apparating to Hogwarts will be as easy as building a LEGO set. As Nerdist reports, LEGO is releasing their take on the Hogwarts Great Hall later in 2018.

LEGO revealed the first look at the magical structure at this year's Toy Fair in New York City. When fully assembled, the four-story set measures 14 inches tall, 6 inches wide, and 11 inches deep. Comprising 878 pieces, the set packs plenty of features fans will recognize. Minifigures of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Draco are included, as well as those of Hogwarts professors like Dumbledore, Hagrid, and Professor McGonagall. The Professor Quirrell piece looks innocent from one angle, but reverse his head and he morphs into Lord Voldemort. Susan Bones and Nearly Headless are also part of the set.

LEGO builders will have no trouble keeping their characters busy. There's a diverse collection of accessories to play with, like the Sorting Hat, Hagrid's umbrella, the Mirror of Erised, house banners, cauldrons, candles, and wands. There are even a few fantastic beasts hiding in the hall, like Hedwig, Scabbers, Fawkes, and a basilisk.

Fans looking to add the product to their collection of all things Harry Potter can purchase it for $100 when it hits stores on August 1.

LEGO set of Hogwarts.

LEGO set of Hogwarts.

[h/t Nerdist]

All images courtesy of LEGO.

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Melanie Gonick, MIT
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MIT Scientists Are Building Biomedical Research Labs Out of LEGO Blocks
Melanie Gonick, MIT
Melanie Gonick, MIT

When it comes to microfluidics, precision is everything. Researchers in this field—which analyzes the behavior and control of tiny amounts of fluids— can use a miniscule, flat chip etched with channels (a "lab-on-a-chip") to control the mixing of liquids at a microscopic level. Now, Co.Design reports that MIT scientists have invented a system that achieves the same results using material that most people would recognize: LEGO blocks.

In their study published in the journal Lab on a Chip, the scientists explain how LEGO fits perfectly into their research. They started out carving grooves into LEGO bricks about 500 microns wide—about the width of handful of human hairs—and sealing them with clear film. Next, they built pathways for fluids by interlocking the blocks so the end of one channel lined up with the start of another.

Assembling a custom microfluidics lab this way takes seconds, which is nothing compared to the involved and costly process of building a lab-on-a-chip from scratch. The same blocks used in one configuration can also be deconstructed and rearranged to create a whole new design. As is the case with the traditional chips, the LEGO-based lab can be used in biomedical research to filter fluids, sort cells, and isolate molecules.

The scientists didn't choose LEGO blocks just because they're fun—they're also practical. The plastic toy blocks are some of the most uniform materials available for building modular systems. The molds used in LEGO factories have to meet strict standards, so only 18 pieces of every million created are technically imperfect.

But LEGO toys aren't the ideal building blocks for every microfluidics study. They don't work for experiments performed on the nano-level, and their plastic structure isn't tough enough to stand up to some chemicals. The MIT scientists are looking into developing protective coatings and possibly molding their own LEGOs from stronger materials to open the door to even more research in the future.

[h/t Co.Design]

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