Lego Institute for Lego Investigation
Lego Institute for Lego Investigation
LI2 is a new research institute with ongoing R&D projects in the areas of Astronomy, Chemistry, Paleontology, Biology, 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 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.
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 can 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 internal work, LI2 awards grants for proposals from outside researchers. 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, ingestest 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 submersible research vessel and sail to the Sea of Monsters to perform the investigation. His staff includes four research assistants who, admittedly, had little scientific training. George did have one publication, Within You Without You, about the subatomic spaces within all matter (all four were doing a lot of chemistry experiments in those days). 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 "That is I think it is O(log n)" would be more precise than John's line, "That is I think it's not too bad".) 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.)