This LEGO Box Could Be Key to Detecting Deadly Nerve Gas

Vivian Abagiu, University of Texas at Austin
Vivian Abagiu, University of Texas at Austin

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a new way to detect deadly nerve gases, and it involves LEGO.

The new detection device, described in a study published in the journal ACS Central Science, uses chemical sensors, a box made out of LEGO bricks, and a cell phone to identify the presence of odorless, tasteless nerve agents like VX and sarin.

Chemical weapons like sarin are extremely dangerous—even at low concentrations, a direct whiff of sarin can kill you in just minutes. So being able to identify them in the field is vital, and it has to be done fast.

The chemical-identifying sensors, developed by UT Austin chemist Xiaolong Sun and his colleagues, fluoresce in different colors and brightnesses to indicate which nerve agents are present in the air, and in what concentrations. Unfortunately, depending on where these tests are taking place, it’s not always easy to see how bright the fluorescent glow is. Expensive equipment designed to detect these changes in the lab just isn’t feasible on the battlefield or in a war-torn region.

Vivian Abagiu, University of Texas at Austin

The 320-brick LEGO structure, meanwhile, is portable and quick to assemble. It acts as a black box that blocks out light around the sensors. The top of the box has a hole in it, over which the user places a smartphone’s camera lens. Using a standard lab test plate and a UV light inside the box, the fluorescent changes can be photographed with the phone and analyzed with UT Austin's free software to determine what type and concentration of nerve agents are present in the sample.

While 3D printing could produce a cheap equivalent of the LEGO box, the toy bricks may be more accessible. Not everyone has access to a 3D printer or the same printing materials as researchers might use in the lab—but LEGOs are available across the world for a relatively low price. The software necessary to analyze the samples is available for free on GitHub, and the researchers include the LEGO assembly directions within their study.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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Late MythBusters Star Grant Imahara Honored With New STEAM Foundation

Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Genevieve via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fans of MythBusters and White Rabbit Project host Grant Imahara were saddened to hear of his passing due to a brain aneurysm in July 2020 at the age of 49. Imahara, a graduate of the University of Southern California, used the television medium to share his love of science and engineering. Now, his passion for education will continue via an educational foundation developed in his name.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation was announced Thursday, October 23, 2020 by family and friends on what would have been Imahara’s 50th birthday. The Foundation will provide mentorships, grants, and scholarships that will allow students from diverse backgrounds access to STEAM education, which places an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. (Formerly referred to as STEM, the “A” for art was added more recently.)

Imahara had a history of aiding students. While working at Industrial Light and Magic in the early 2000s, he mentored the robotics team at Richmond High School to prepare for the international FIRST Robotics Competition. Whether he was working on television or behind-the-scenes on movies like the Star Wars prequels and The Matrix sequels, Imahara always found time to promote and encourage young engineering talent.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation’s founding board members include Imahara’s mother, Carolyn Imahara, and close friends Don Bies, Anna Bies, Edward Chin, Fon H. Davis, Coya Elliott, and Ioanna Stergiades.

“There are many students, like my son Grant, who need the balance of the technical and the creative, and this is what STEAM is all about,” Carolyn Imahara said in a statement. “I’m so proud of my son’s career, but I’m equally proud of the work he did mentoring students. He would be thrilled that we plan to continue this, plus much more, through The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation.”

Imahara friend Wade Bick is also launching an effort in concert with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to name a study lounge after Imahara. Donations can be made here.

You can find out more about the foundation, and make a donation, on its website.