Interferometers are some of the most highly advanced sensor instruments that humans have made. They are used in everything from astronomy to quantum mechanics and have profoundly impacted our understanding of science. But not all interferometers have to be functional. A Dutch astronomer named Frans Snik has just designed one that, while it isn’t function, is inspiring all the same – and it happens to be made out of Lego.
Mr. Snik is a prolific Lego builder, initially designing a model of the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) European Extremely Large Telescope back in 2014. He then created a model of one of the Unit Telescopes that comprise ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Using 3104 pieces that cost around 500 euros, this custom-built assembly is approximately a 1:150 scale model of its inspiration.
What’s even better – Mr. Snik made an instruction guide so that Lego enthusiasts the world over can recreate his build, including a list of the bricks needed to do it. While the VLT itself is impressive, his latest addition to it is even more so.
The VLT’s interferometer connects the four 1.8m Unit Telescopes that comprise the VLT itself. There are currently three functional instruments on the VLT that combine the four beams from the telescopes and try to parse out the individual wavelengths of interest to astronomers. In the Lego build, these beam channels are funneled underground in a series of tunnels that connect four of the Unit Telescope models at the site. The surrounding infrastructure includes brown bricks for dirt and green LEDs for some lighting effects.
Those effects add to the ambiance of the project, and while the display itself has excellent aesthetics, it can also be helpful as a training and learning tool. Understanding how interferometry works is key to understanding some aspects of modern-day science. If Mr. Snik’s build leads to even more people becoming interested in learning about it, it will deserve to be lauded as more than just a pretty combination of objects from a complex interlocking building system.