We present a pinned insect manipulator (IMp) constructed of LEGO® building bricks with two axes of movement and two axes of rotation. In addition we present three variants of the IMp to emphasise the modular design, which facilitates resizing to meet the full range of pinned insect specimens, is fully customizable, collapsible, affordable and does not require specialist tools or knowledge to assemble.
This is not a joke but the abstract of a new paper just published in Zookeys which describes a very creative solution to a problem researchers at the Natural History Museum in London (NHM) were facing. They are working on the mass digitization of museum specimens and for years they have been using standard size commercial manipulators which are not flexible enough to work with a number of insect groups.
In such cases researchers usually resort to affordable DIY solutions but often those are made from materials and tools that are not readily available to everyone. Furthermore most of these setups are again not very flexible as they usually were designed for a particular group of insects and may not be of an appropriate size for other insect groups.
So what do you do? Well, you start using the perhaps most versatile toy ever invented - LEGO®. At least that's what the colleagues at the NHM did. To answer the challenges of mass digitization in their day-to-day digitization tasks they invented a pinned insect manipulator made entirely of LEGO® pieces. Their invention holds several advantages among which are universal applicability, availability, affordability and the ability to customize for each case at all times. Most importantly they ensure minimum handling of fragile specimens to reduce the risk of damaging very valuable vouchers.
This is fantastic. Not only does it seem to be an optimal solution to the problem at hand but it also gives adults a welcome excuse to play with LEGO® at work.