In one week, can 32 young scientists from China and the UK develop a new type of low-cost scanning probe microscope, powerful enough to study the nano world? And can this device transform science education in Chinese high schools? Tsinghua University, Peking University and University College London team up with the LEGO Foundation to invent, make and market their idea!

一个星期内, 来自两个国家的 三十二个学生,能否发明一个足够给力的原子力学显微镜 让我们观察到神奇的纳米世界?它能否给中国高中的理科教学带来转变?清华大学,北京大学,伦敦大学与乐高基金会一起 点燃思维,实现想法, 传递激情!


LEGO2NANO is the third in a series of China-UK Summer Schools between Tsinghua University, Peking University and University College London, held on the campus of Tsinghua University. Undergraduate and graduate students from diverse educational backgrounds worked together for five days to design a low-cost Atomic Force Microscope suitable for use in Chinese high schools.

AFM under construction
AFM under construction

With the support of Tsinghua-University-based Toyhouse and the Singapore University of Technology and Design, student teams prototyped their solutions using a systematic design methodology. The summer school was designed to allow hands-on work with the latest technologies such as 3D printing. As well as working on building their prototypes, the students heard lunchtime talks from experts in nanotechnology as well as leaders of the maker movement in China and around the world. The students visited partner laboratories at Tsinghua and Peking Universities as well as shopping for parts in high-tech Zhongguancun, Beijing's Silicon Valley. Evening were spent exploring aspects of Chinese culinary culture, and the event was rounded off with a hike on the Great Wall.

Given the difficult and open-ended nature of the challenge, the results exceeded all expectations of the organizers. The teams made convincing prototypes, and at least one team was able to demonstrate a functioning device after just five days (and several long nights!) of work. The students also rose to the challenge of looking beyond the technology, and worked with students from a local high school to figure out novel ways that AFM measurements made with such devices might be integrated into high school science education and disseminated on the Internet.

LEGO2NANO does not stop here. The Institute of Making at UCL and the Open Wisdom Laboratory at Tsinghua University will be hosting regular sessions for their students to develop the concept further. But the challenge is now open to everyone around the world, be they university students, amateur scientists or avid makers. Using the information that the student teams will be sharing freely below about their prototypes, all challengers are welcome to try to build a fully functional $100 Atomic Force Microscope within a year. That is the new LEGO2NANO challenge!

The Result

Press Coverage

人民日报 People's Daily:
北京日报 Beijing Daily:
京华时报 Beijing Times:
新华社 Xinhua News Agency:
Wired Magazine:
Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence:
UCL press release:

The Event More >

High School Pre-event

Planning for LEGO2NANO began in London, at the UCL Institute of Making as well as at the Tsinghua-based non-profit organization Toyhouse, months before the event. Work on building AFMs began in earnest a couple of weeks before the event, when Joe Bailey of the London Centre for Nanotechnology, the CTO of the event, came to Beijing, and began work with three high school students who had volunteered, Jonathan Zhou, Zhengmin Ni and Sprite Xue, and a Tsinghua student named Storm.

One week before the event, a team from a local high school on the Tsinghua campus was set the challenge of making a scale model of an AFM from LEGO, based on a published version from researchers at the University of Rhode Island. They managed to get it working in under 48 hours. This talented team was invited to be both the customer focus group and one of the judges for the next phase of the project, the summer school.

Press Coverage

Participating Universities


Participating Institutes


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