LEGO for Science Communication

For this week’s SiP goes 53 we’re celebrating activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Her work promoting the education of girls in her native Pakistan got the SiP crew thinking, and though there are no claims of grandeur here, they very kindly thought of me.

Science communication

See, I too am an advocate for education for all, though working on a very different scale to the incredible Malala! I am a Geologist, currently studying for my Ph.D. and trying to understand how mountain ranges are built. One of the best bits about my work is being able to share my science with others, no matter who they are or how much they know about geology. Ask anyone who has been on a Toy Safari with me where there have been rocks! So in a bid to share the wonders of rocks, minerals and the natural world, I’ve combined three of my greatest passions together in a potent combination.

Science + LEGO + Photography = SCIENCE COMMUNICATION!

Me doing science communication, stood on a box in the middle of Milton Keynes shopping centre trying to tell as many people as I can why mountains are the coolest things on earth.
And my LEGO representation of the SoapBox Science event in 2017.

Science communication (SciComm) is a bit of a buzzword in many scientific fields these days, and in geology particularly so. Communicating your work in an effective way is a crucial skill for any researcher these days. Scientists who have government funding have a responsibility to share their research with the public. Making people more aware and scientifically literate so that they can understand problems such as climate change is incredibly important these days. As is fostering people’s natural curiosity in things, whether they be children or adults, and regardless of socioeconomic status, gender or race.

From including SciComm on my Instagram…

I’ve taken an active interest in honing my science communication skills and one of the key things that always comes up in training programs is “know your audience”. And so my first thought when I heard this was, “Well, I have Instagram, and my audience there happens to be a pretty diverse group of LEGO-loving-people from all over the world”. That is something that every science communicator dreams of! A true cross-section of society! And so, I started sneaking in posts about science into my usually LEGO-heavy feed, trying my best to make my work accessible to my following who, on the whole, were not scientists.

An example of sneaking a science post into my Instagram Feed!

…To using toy photography for SciComm

But then I had an epiphany! Why not flip it around and use my LEGO to show EVERYONE about my work?! That’s when the fun really started.

There’s something about the medium of LEGO that speaks to people, whether they are in the business of LEGO or not. LEGO scenes can simplify things (another key concept in SciComm), they have bright bold colours, it evokes nostalgia in people. These are all things that can help spread a message, whatever that message may be. So I’ve latched onto this concept, utilising the fun nature of LEGO and my photography skills to get across my ideas. And I’ve been successful in doing it all sorts of ways.

Here Lego ShtacyP is being used as a scale for the blue mineral kyanite, showing that this is a whopping big crystal! And I regularly use this image…
…In conference presentations and posters that I have given around the world.
I came 2nd in a competition at my university (The Open University) to come up with an image that encapsulates the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects. This LEGO collage has now been printed out and adorns the wall in one of the main OU offices.
I entered the Geological Society of London Photo competition to celebrate women in geology, with this portrait of three female LEGO scientists.
A lot of my work is based in the laboratory and I enjoy creating my own LEGO versions of the machines, like this electron microprobe that I use to find out the chemistry of rocks and minerals.
Or I’ll take LEGO into the lab with me and share what I’ve been up to on Instagram and Twitter.

LEGO Stop Motion for SciComm

But the thing that people really know me for these days, and my favourite unique flavour of science communication, has got to be my LEGO Stop Motion movies. While I wouldn’t claim to be an expert Stop Motion animator (there are some incredible Brick Films out there!), I’ve picked up some tips and tricks and my videos have been really well received. Internationally acclaimed you might say…

My very first LEGO Stop Motion! Forgive the dodgy audio and shaky stop motion!
A video I made to accompany a short teaching post on the The Open University Open Learn platform.
‘Biography of a Mountain’ was created for The Open University Graduate School Multimedia competition 2018 where it won 1st place! It also came 2nd in the Italian Geological Society On The Rocks Video competition 2018!
‘Micro Mountains’ was similarly created for the 2019 versions of video competitions that “Biography of a Mountain” was entered into. I once again won 1st place in the Grad School competition, but then took it a step further and won 1st place in On The Rocks!

People have come up to me at scientific conferences and asked me about LEGO. I even got berated at my most recent conference for NOT having LEGO in my presentation! And people from the LEGO community and members of the public, have become engaged with my science, learning about geology and mountain ranges (your favourite mineral is kyanite now, right?!). I thoroughly enjoy communicating my research, with both scientists and non-scientists, and hopefully, I can help with bridging the gap between them. And I like to think that in my own small way I am contributing to improving education for all. All aided by just some little LEGO bricks.

Stacy Phillips aka ShtacyP

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10 months ago

Stacy, such a great read on how you combine your three passions into one successful powerful story.

Now I need to get some popcorn, sit back and look at all those amazing movies you included!


10 months ago
Reply to  Boris

Pete is my absolute favorite!

10 months ago

Your work is totally awesome! I wish all science was taught with Lego, then I would be able to pay attention :D

9 months ago

Every time I see your LEGO Science photos/videos I feel so jealous. For many years, I’ve wanted to include toy photography as part of conference presentations but I’ve never managed to figure out how. It’s in these moments that I wish to have studied something more concrete than computer science :D