Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

90 Degree Index Ratchet Built from LEGO

An ingenious design from another era is resurrected.

  • February 24, 2012

It’s Friday, do you really want me to make you think? Instead, I bring you a “90 degree index ratchet,” realized in LEGO in what I gather was a single evening by Dan Zimmerman. Dan is a physicist at the University of Maryland whose day job is building a 30-ton sphere filled with liquid sodium that may or may not spontaneously generate a magnetic field like Earth’s.

Dan got the design for this ratchet from a book first published in 1930, Ingenious Mechanisms for Designer and Inventors.

There was a time before computers and the Internet that budding geeks who wanted to “program” in any sense of the word were limited to physical computers. Mechanisms like this one have the added benefit of affecting the material world rather than just someone’s eyeballs, so we called it mechanical engineering, revolutionized industrial production and only later started taking it for granted enough to ship it overseas.

Dan has also built an upright bass out of LEGOs. It even has a nice sound.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Online Only.
  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.