There is a new LEGO book I have been reading, titled LEGO Optics: Projects in Optical and Laser Science with LEGO, written by Grady Koch. Yep, the book is exactly what the title make it sound like; full of interesting science projects using LEGO elements. 🙂
The background of this book is really interesting. Grady is an electro-optical engineer, building laser instruments for applications in atmospheric science and aviation. In the introduction of the book he shares that one time while working on a project with a deadline, a component failed on the eve of departing for an expensive and high-profile field experiment. Grady was scrambling and turned to the Internet to find a solution and get the faulty component fixed. However to his dismay he discovered that some critical electronic parts had become obsolete, which meant that he would have to redesign a circuit with modern parts, make a new printed circuit board, and some other stuff – all of which would be impossible to accomplish by the deadline. Out of desperation Grady turned to his childhood LEGO bricks. He replaced the function of the broken device with a LEGO contraption solidified with a few drops of Krazy Glue. The device worked, the project schedule was saved, and Grady re-discovered his childhood idea that anything can be made out of LEGO bricks – even high-tech scientific instruments!
There are LEGO fans who stay within the boundaries of the LEGO system, and treat it strictly as a hobby; they build LEGO towns, castles and spaceships, using LEGO elements. Then there are those who build working machines and engines using LEGO bricks – we have featured several of them here (see links at the end of this post), and there are also some people who use LEGO to build and fix things in their daily lives; things like smart-phone cases, pencil holders, book ends and more. And when you give LEGO to an electro-optical engineer like Grady, he is going to build lenses, and lasers, and mirrors and all kinds of other magical contraptions.
While LEGO doesn’t specifically make optical components like mirrors, lasers, or beam-splitters, there are actually a few LEGO parts that can serve as optical elements like the LEGO magnifying glass or LEGO light-brick. However in the realm of experiments with optics, LEGO bricks best serve as a means to hold and manipulate optical elements – which is actually a really important aspect, a lack of which often holds back students or hobbyists from realizing their projects. The combination of various optical elements coupled with the mechanical precision of LEGO bricks allows the implementation of some rather complex inventions.
Here is the description of the LEGO Optics: Projects in Optical and Laser Science: Discover how to incorporate laser and optical components into LEGO. Step-by-step instructions are given for the advanced (high school to adult) builder. These high-tech projects include: lenses, custom-color LED light bricks, LEGO laser, mirrors (with a laser light show), optomechanics, Michelson interferometer, and LEGO holography. Yeah, you read that right; holography! 😀
Please note that since this book is meant to be a series of building projects, the emphasis is on practical instructions with just enough science background to understand what is going on. After each project is built, there is a “How It Works” section to give a little more explanation of the science and math behind the project. The book is set at a level of a science/math interested high-school student or adult LEGO fan. A background in algebra, trigonometry, and introductory physics is presumed. The building skills to recreate the inventions is also of a high-school student, though a middle-school student could work through the inventions with adult help. Some of the projects require the modification of LEGO elements (this is kept to a minimum), which would require adult help; such as using a drill, tapping a hole or soldering connections. Appropriate machine-shop safety practices are needed when working with these tools.
There are seven projects in the book LEGO Optics: Projects in Optical and Laser Science, and while they stand on their own, they also build on each other: The first chapter deals with lenses, the second chapter with making custom color LEGO light-bricks, and in the third chapter you learn to build a LEGO laser. The fourth chapter is about mirrors, and the fifth chapter is on optomechanics (which deals with the combination of optical science and mechanical engineering) with a cool project. The sixth chapter is building a Michelson interferometer (a device that uses the properties of laser light to detect very small motions and vibrations), and also leads up to the seventh chapter where you learn to make LEGO holograms.
For each project there is a part-list for both LEGO and non-LEGO components that you will need, as well as tools used. When non-LEGO parts are needed resources are given as far as where to get them. These include things like LED lights, small mirrors, batteries, glue, putty, laser diodes and holographic plates. There are also step-by-step instructions with color pictures (either photographs or digital images). The book is soft-bound and 124 pages long, so it is not too big for the casual tinkerer, but big enough to give you enough details on each project.
I think this is a great book for high-school students and adults who like to experiment with scientific projects. For kids who are into optics and engineering it is an excellent hands-on introduction that may steer them towards a chosen scientific field. It could very well be included in school-curriculum as most kids would have some LEGO lying around they could use for the projects. The only thing I didn’t like about the book are some of the photographs (like for example the one on the front cover) – sometimes they are a bit too dark or not sharp enough. This doesn’t in any way take away from being able to follow the instructions for the projects, it is simply an aesthetic issue. This is not a LEGO art or picture gallery book, so it can be overlooked, but I thought to mention it for the sake of the completeness.
LEGO Optics: Projects in Optical and Laser Science is available on Amazon. The normal price is $20.99, Amazon’s price is currently $17.42 (this may fluctuate at times). You can find the book listed on Amazon at this link: BUY LEGO OPTICS BOOK ON AMAZON
So what do you think? Are you interested to tinker with scientific projects? Have you ever use LEGO for this purpose? What did you build? Feel free to share and discuss in the comment section below! 😉
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