We at The Brick Show have had the pleasure of featuring some really off-the-wall LEGO MOCs with integrated mechanics or technical stuff on them. Usually they tend to be pretty much big interactive videogame things like a Mindstorms-powered tabletop racing machine or a pimped-out arcade cabinet. This new LEGO MOC however is different; it saves lives.
A research team from the University of Texas, Austin has been puzzling on an effective yet affordable means to successfully detect and identify the presence of nerve gas and similar deadly biological agents. Since purpose-built lab equipment to detect these colorless and odorless poison gases can be rather expensive, the researchers looked for cheaper alternatives.
With a chemical sensor as its core, the team built an enclosed housing for that unit using LEGO bricks, to forgo the original and more expensive solution of 3D-printing. The covering was needed because the chemical sensor indicates gases through fluorescent colors, but these are not easily perceived by unaided observers especially when working outdoors.
So with the LEGO MOC casing for the chemical sensor providing the necessary darkroom shade, the researchers then put a smartphone on top (an iPhone in their case) that will take a photo of any fluorescent gas indicators made by the chemical sensor inside, then analyze it for any trace of dangerous chemicals through a mobile software app developed by a University of Texas graduate student.
With this simple setup using off-the-shelf components (the only true analysis gadget being the chemical sensor composed of a sample collection plate and ultraviolet light source to generate the fluorescent gas effect), it’s possible to have researchers all over the world replicate the build by the research team and thus have a portable field-use gas indicator that can check air samples on-site for invisible killers like Sarin and VX gases.
The real-world field applications of such laboratory equipment that can be assembled with any set of LEGO bricks and a smartphone is highly invaluable in their potential to save lives, and the University of Texas team has indicated such in their paper on this project with the ACS Central Science Journal. There probably has never been a LEGO MOC that was explicitly made as a lifesaving tool; now there is.