In what can only be termed a marvel of frugal ingenuity, a definitive achievement in DIY science, and definitive proof that quarantine is making us all lose our minds, a group of devoted German scientists banded together to create the world’s first high-resolution microscope built (almost) entirely out of lego bricks. The only non-Lego components are the lenses, which were salvaged from used smartphone cameras. The project is part of a trend commonly known as “frugal science”, in which functional scientific gadgets and machinery are made out of cheap consumer hardware and open-source software. The trend isn’t just a way for science-lovers around the world to participate in the current scientific discourse; it also signals the ongoing enlightenment dream of a free and open scientific community engaged in constant constructive and critical conversation.
Timo Betz, the co-author of the article in which the Lego telescope first came to light, had this to say: “An understanding of science is crucial for decision-making and brings many benefits in everyday life, such as problem-solving and creativity, yet we find that many people, even politicians, feel excluded or do not have the opportunities to engage in scientific or critical thinking. We wanted to find a way to nurture natural curiosity, help people grasp fundamental principles, and see the potential of science.”
There is no doubt that frugal science may help bridge the abyssal divide between the hyper-specialized academia and the general public, who are often detached and disillusioned with most modern-day trends in theoretical and applicable sciences. Constructing scientific appliances out of everyday objects is also, as a symbolic gesture, emblematic of everyday life accommodating scientific affairs and science lending itself to our social fabric. The very fact that people can and are recreating scientific machinery is proof of science’s relevance and pertinence to our day-to-day lives.