The Kid Should See This

A pinned insect manipulator (IMp), the Natural History Museum’s LEGO invention

When you’re an entomologist who’s trying to help digitize insect specimens—studying them, comparing their details with other insects, and capturing multiple images of them from all angles—it can be a challenge to use the standard scientific equipment. According to entomologist Dr. Steen Dupont of the Natural History Museum in London, this was time-consuming, fiddly, expensive… and wasn’t for him.

Enter LEGO. Dupont, along with colleagues Dr. Benjamin Price and Dr. Vladimir Blagoderov, designed and built a pinned insect manipulator (IMp), a low-cost and easy-to-build LEGO tool that can rotate specimens over “two axes of movement and two axes of rotation” for study. Their 2015 plans also include customizable variations. Via Zookeys:

The idea of a holding mechanism for pinned specimens is as old as the pinned specimen itself. The design of these particular models were inspired by the daily grind of comparative morphology and the association to mass digitization and digital loans that the first author has had at the natural history museums of Denmark and London. Although the LEGO® brick has always been a working tool it has served more as a means of prototyping ideas, but in this case the authors found the plastic bricks to have the right properties for the product presented here. It is in fact the simple nature of the LEGO® bricks, their availability and ease of use that we feel make these models so customizable, user friendly, affordable and hassle free.


IMp helps keep the specimens, often fragile from years in museum collections, safe and easy to digitize. And it’s inexpensive and accessible enough for scientists and students around the world to replicate.

Find their annotated building instructions here (pdf).

Next, watch the incredibly detailed insect portraits by Levon Biss and building a prosthetic arm with parts from a LEGO Technic Air Race Jet.

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