Lego Institute for Lego Investigation
Lego Institute for Lego Investigation
LI2 is a scientific research lab with ongoing R&D projects in the areas of Astronomy, Chemistry, Paleontology, Biology, Data Science, and Robotics.
LI2 History: LI2 was established in 2014 with a 20,000,000 micro-dollar grant from the Norvig Foundation to set up three labs in Astronomy, Chemistry, and Paleontology. Labs in Biology and Robotics were added when two principal investigators were recruited from a local maker space called The Playroom. These world-renowned PIs became available after their long-time collaborators, a pair known as The Children, accepted academic positions*. Finally, with a generous 80,000 centi-cent gift from Google we added Computing Infrastructure: a state-of-the-art 24-server computing center where each server is a 2x2, with 4 PPUs (Plastic Processing Units). The computers are on a 100-GBASE network, but you can see in the photo that they also can function off the grid. LI2 has been featured in news articles and discussion groups.
Director's Statement: I'm uncomfortably excited to be the founding director of LI2. Recently I've seen innovative and agile new research institutes directed by my friends Bret, Oren, Richard, Saul, and Vero, and I'm thrilled to be able to start something new here. We will use a hybrid approach to fundamental research and development in areas that advance the state of knowledge and have the potential to have a big impact on bettering society.
Animal Research and Testing: No animals are harmed at LI2, nor are they constrained in any way from roaming free exactly as much as they would in the wild.
In addition to our ongoing internal research projects, LI2 solicits proposals from external researchers, and awards grants for the top proposals. (Send proposals here.) We typically concentrate on one major grant per year:
Funded in 2014 was a proposal by Dr. Gordon Freeman, Dr. Stephen Eckel, and Rachel Kramer, MESc. The project resulted in the succesful splitting of Lego atoms. While the laser-shark approach was unsuccessful, the particle accelerator with atom splitting device achieved the goal of splitting atoms, as shown in the video below.
Successful splitting of a blue Lego particle from a white particle.
In an effort to increase diversity, our Dr. Boromir invited promising young scientists of various species to a grant-writing bootcamp. Two of the attendees, Dr. Baggins and Dr. Gamgee, came up with a complex proposal involving a fellowship of nine co-PIs, with the purpose of disposing of the One Ring. However, as Dr. Boromir put it, "The original proposal had several of the classic grant application mistakes. It was too ambitious, the investigators had few recent papers, they needed a more senior collaborator, and there was no preliminary data to demonstrate feasibility. In addition, it is well known that one does not simply walk into Mordor." With the help of Dr. Boromir, and with Dr. Gandalf as a senior collaborator and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a partner, an excellent new proposal emerged. Instead of walking, the proposal specified conveyance by rocket and autonomous rover, and instead of Mount Doom in Mordor, the proposal selected Olympus Mons on Mars (which happens to be the largest volcano in the solar system). This mission proved to be successful.
This year's call was for interdisciplinary proposals. We were pleased to fund the noted polymath, Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D., who proposed to study the omniphagic creatures that inhabit the Sea of Monsters and ingest their prey using a low pressure gradient. This work combines our marine biology and theoretical physics interests; Dr. Boob proposes that if the creature becomes autophagic, the resulting singularity could provide insight into the structure of black holes and wormholes. Dr. Boob's proposal was to build a 580nm submersible research vessel and sail to the Sea of Monsters to perform the investigation.
Dr. Boob's staff includes four research assistants who, admittedly, had very little formal scientific training (although all four were doing a lot of chemistry experiments in the 1960s). George did have one publication, Within You Without You, about the subatomic spaces within all matter. John had a publication (cited by Donald Knuth!) that contains (in part) a correctness proof for binary-tree search: "No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low." (Critics contend that John's line, "That is I think it's not too bad" would be more precise as "That is I think it is O(log n).") Despite the lack of experience, the mission was a success. We agree with Dr. Boob: "Ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo! So little time! So much to know!"
This year's grant process had two stages: a preliminary proposal, limited to 140 characters; then top applicants were invited to write full proposals. Many proposals came via Twitter, but Bart Howard's came by radio, and consisted of the 11 words "Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars." In inviting a full proposal, we found that a stellar [sic] team of PIs, Margaret Hamilton, Dr. Mae Jemison, and Dr. Nancy Grace Roman, had banded together to finally answer Howard's question.
On Earth, of course, seasons are driven by the planet's axial tilt, and the distance to the sun (which was closest on January 2) is not a factor. Mars has a similar axial tilt, and thus similar seasons (but colder since it is farther from the sun), but on top of that it has a much more squished elliptical orbit, which alters the seasons, giving Mars a spring of 171 Earth days. By modeling the seasonal interplay, the team was able to direct the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to take the first pictures of exposed underground ice. Jupiter has negligible axial tilt, but the squished elliptical orbit gives it a spring that lasts about 3 Earth years. Whatever the season, Jupiter is cold on the outside, hot on the inside, and radioactive all over. The team commanded the Juno spacecraft to take some amazing pictures of spring on Jupiter. (Note: This research was made possible by a 25,000,000 micro-dollar gift from Bella Norvig, who also obtained sign off from Maia Weinstock.)
This year's grant process had the same format as last year. The winning entry came, again, over radio, from N. K. Cole, and addressed the scientific question of whether reindeer really know how to fly. The research answered the question in the affirmative, but the full report is pending a review by the Inspector General as to whether one S. Claus abused the power of his position and spent taxpayer money on personal expenses such as reindeer patty cleanup. LI2 is cooperating completely with the investigation.
This year's grant was awarded in honor of Larry Brilliant, in response to his 2006 Ted Prize Talk My Wish: Help Me Stop Pandemics. We brought experts from the CDC and the WHO onsite to help train us in the science and logistics of pandemic response. We knew this was one of humankind's most pressing problems, and we knew it would bring together our computing, chemistry, and biology labs, but we didn't know at the time how soon it would come to affect all of us on a personal level.
Like many of our sister research institutes, we have shifted much of our resources to concentrate on COVID-19 work. We had a bit of difficulty getting enough PPEs for everyone; our supplier was late in getting masks and gloves to us; I'm not saying the Feds were intercepting shipments, but I'm not saying they weren't.
There are over a hundred labs working on a vaccine treatment alone, so we decided to focus on something few others are working on. Following the experimental procedure established by Frizzle et al., 1989 (with influence from the groundbreaking work of Fleischer et al., 1966 and the replication study by Dante, Finnell and Spielberg, 1987), we decided to train a crew of four to operate our submersible research vessel, to shrink it to microscopic size, inject it into the bloodstream of a COVID-positive patient, have the team mutate the coronavirus into a harmless but robust form, and then encourage the spread of that form, hoping that it out-competes the deadly form. This is a dangerous, ambitious plan, but we felt it was the right strategy for our lab.
A short video of the centrifuge training process:
Although much attention is currently on COVID, other areas of research continue. Our first funded proposal in the area of mathematical sciences came from Prof. Luigi Semenzato, and addresses the geometry of non-orthogonal Lego grids. Most Lego constructs appear on an orthogonal grid, with pieces restricted to the horizontal or vertical direction. But it is possible to place pieces in non-orthogonal directions, as long as they obey certain constraints, which this work explores.
Professor S. has assigned the following homework questions:
(1) Prove that the green point at (1, 1) is exactly one unit from the blue line segment that passes through (3, 0) and (0, 4), and that the closest point on the line segment is at a stud.
(2) Show whether or not the blue line segment that starts at (6, 0) and is pushed as far as possible against the neighboring stud fits exactly on to the point at (0, 8). You'll need to know that whereas mathematical line segments have no width, a Lego line segment has a width of 5 units: 3 units for the diameter of the center stud and 1 unit on each side. The distance from the center of one stud to the next is also 5 units. You won't need trigonometry to solve the problem, just geometry of triangles.
(3) Imagine a 1x1 square piece that is placed on any stud on a grid. Can it rotate freely through 360°, or will it hit a neighboring stud? You may need more information.
(4) At what angle to the orthogonal grid are the multicolored grid points? At what angle are the blue and grey line segments that go on top of them?