Big QuestionsOur work related to complex challenges.

The Challenge

Encourage PhD candidates to think differently about tough science problems.


Three PhD students from different disciplines designed the LegoScope, a working telescope made out of Legos.


“Designing Science,” a collaboration that draws in experts from a wide range of fields to solve one big problem.

To encourage PhD candidates to think differently about how they tackle tough science problems, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and IDEO embarked on a fruitful collaboration.

Three PhD candidates were tasked with the following challenge: Cultivate new audiences and uses for a microscope. Drawing inspiration from cell phone microscope CellScope, the trio arrived at a prototype that was less reliant on technology and easily disassembled and reassembled. How? By using the most basic building blocks: Legos.

Made of custom 3-D-printed parts and standard toy building blocks, the LegoScope, which functions as a microscope, can easily snap pieces in and out to hold different components. Both the device and the team-based process are now being used in various other campus projects to change how researchers think about conducting and advancing scientific research.

“The best work in the future is going to be done by teams of people with very different expertise, who know different things and think about things in different ways, who come together to focus on one big problem,” said Keith Yamamoto, vice chancellor of research at UCSF, who led the initiative.

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