What sparked my interest in science


That’s right, legos, those little plastic bricks from Denmark, sparked my interest in science. This interest in science has colored the lens through which I view the entire universe. Everything I value, my philosophies and principles, how I make decisions–they’re all informed by science, and it’s all thanks to Lego. How, you might ask?

I grew up playing with legos. When I was very young, I was content to build exactly what was in the box by following the instructions. Pirate ships, medieval castles, you name it. But then as I grew older, my imagination expanded and I was no longer satisfied to build what was on the box. I wanted to build my own, unique creations! I had big ideas in my head, story lines for the little plastic characters that extended far beyond the numbered instructions at the bottom of the box.

I had always liked sci-fi growing up, but not so much for the science at the time. Everything just looked cool, which is awesome when you’re 8. But when you’re 8, most of the “sci” in sci-fi goes right over your head. Anyway, as I approached my teens, it was only natural for my imagination to wander toward science fiction when it came to my lego creations.

In my tweens, all of my friends in the neighborhood had legos as well, and we were all starting to exercise our imaginations and engineering skills with those wonderful plastic bricks. And, as you can imagine, most of my friends also started to put a sci-fi spin on their own lego creations. We all grew up watching Star Wars and Star Trek, so it was only a matter of time before space seeped into everything lego we made.

So where am I going with this? Well, there was a space race of sorts between my friends and I, a lego space race. We were creating our own fleets! And it would be way too easy for someone to say, “Oh yeah? Well my ship has an invincibility shield, so you can’t destroy it!” This might promptly be followed with claims of a super missile that could blow up a planet. None of that shit would fly in the lego space race.

No, in the lego space race, shit had to be REAL. Imagination is wonderful, but there had to be rules to this whole thing, otherwise it would just be a bunch of 12 year old boys trying to one-up each other with “mega-mega-mega-MEGA lasers plus infinity!” And that would end things pretty quickly.

So it was decided that in this lego galaxy we were creating, things you built wouldn’t work unless you could actually explain the physical science behind them. This forced us all to think about things like rocketry, lasers, the nature of space-time, faster-than-light travel, and a whole dearth of other scientific things. Suddenly I was reading about things like plasma, fusion, and time dilation because, dammit, I wanted my lego ships to work. My science had to be airtight or the others would rip it apart.

And so as I entered my teens, I spent a fair deal of time reading about biology, chemistry, and physics. And it was all thanks to the little lego ships that my friends and I were creating. And this new scientific interest really increased my appreciation for sci-fi, too. Now I could look at Star Trek and see the science behind it. I could appreciate that, while obviously fiction, the people behind that franchise really tried to incorporate actual physics into the show. This, of course, increased my interest in the shows and movies, which in turn fed my interest in science.

When everything is said and done, it’s funny to think about how much a toy inspired me to think, to learn, and to be creative. But I’ll be forever grateful to Lego for creating those inspiring blocks. I still have mine, and I still pull them out from time to time to revisit those times from my childhood. And they’re just as fun and inspiring today as they were 17 years ago.



6 thoughts on “What sparked my interest in science

      1. There is a format design guide and individual contributors build the modules, then at show time they plug them together with a bit of planning and connect the batteries and start playing. Figure that each module might take 12 hours to build or more. The train track one is just kick@ss. I’ve seen one module that used a pneumatic digger!!

  1. That is actually incredibly impressive that you decided that the science had to be real in your tweens. I am not sure I knew what science was, other than something you learned at school. You might be a secret genius. I am going to have to start preaching your gospel. 🙂 Very cool story Ryan. What would you say was your influence though to sort of take initiative to understand science at such a young age? It has to be more than Legos and a dream to travel through space. Because most 12 year olds would seriously go well I have a mega-mega-mega laser and I would destroy your shield. In fact I think I remember having similar conversations! I would say that your love of sci-fi was a big influence though…even if you just thought it was really cool. There is something about finding something really cool that makes us want to know more about it. In the 6th grade I thought clouds were really cool, and that led me to want to have pictures of clouds, and storms and lightning…which was all just really cool…and then I hit grade 8 and it was like, wow, there is a whole field of science that tries to understand that stuff. I think for me though I was just too institutionalized. I loved school, so I just always saw that as the arena for learning. I had to get out of school to realize that I could learn on my own just for the hell of it and that I had been learning all these years too. Sort of sad in a way. Anyway, that’s why I just think it’s so cool you started doing this at a young age. 🙂

    1. I definitely wouldn’t say that I’m a secret genius by any means lol. I just had all of the unbridled curiosity and enthusiasm that comes with such youth, when the world is still such a big huge place with lots of fresh new ideas.

      I guess science fiction has had a pretty firm hold of me for most of my life. Much like you were drawn to clouds as a child, I was drawn to space. I liked learning the constellations and such as a child, and from there my interest grew.

      Even though there was an insistence in our group to keep the science “real,” I highly doubt any of us had an accurate or complete grasp on the science we were using. In retrospect I suppose it was just making the effort that really sparked interest for us.

      I will say that my friends deserve much of the credit. Most of the people I grew up with were very smart and very competitive. If I’d been the only person in the group with any inkling of an intellect, this story probably would have had a much different outcome. Luckily for me though, coincidence played out such that I lived next to some very smart and high achieving kids. So while I think there probably is a genetic component to my interests and abilities, my environment was extremely formative.

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