The LEGO Group granted me the honor of being the first to reveal and review the new LEGO® Ideas set 21110 Research Institute. I’m extremely excited to have the final set in hand, especially because I only ever built the chemist’s lab for real. As a scientist critical and objective reviewing is part of my job so let’s get started.
The front of the box shows the three vignettes and the box design with the hexagonal shapes and grey/white/turquoise color scheme certainly gives it a ‘scientific’ feel. I think the composition of the vignettes looks nice with the dinosaur in the background – probably because the final design turned out bigger than my version – although I think the background colors could have been more contrasting to the sets. The dinosaur doesn’t quite stand out to the white background and the same is the case for the blackboard and dark grey lab on the dark grey background. It does give the impression of a big room or a lab and I think that’s what they were going for.
The back of the box shows the three vignettes separately in little hexagonal insets, which is nicely done. The minifigures are positioned differently compared to the front of the box and the paleontologist is shown studying the T-rex arm with the magnifying glass exactly the way I presented it in the original design. It’s great to see these details preserved.
The set contains three numbered bags, one for each of the vignettes, and a small booklet in high-quality matte paper. The booklet starts with the background to the project and a scarily large photo of me in the clean laboratory of the Swedish Museum of Natural History where I work as a senior researcher. I’m setting a bad example by not wearing safety goggles (only for the photo, of course…) so hereby I apologize for that. The following pages of the booklet contain information on what paleontologists, astronomers and chemists actually do so there is a nice educational aspect to the set.
The first bag contains the parts for the chemist vignette as well as an orange brick separator that will save some nail damage and teeth marks on bricks if you don’t own one yet. This set is very easy to build and very similar to the one I suggested. It’s noteworthy that the booklet pages of the chemist instructions show some hexagonal ‘molecule’-like background on the right pages, which is a great detail. Small differences between the final set and my original suggestion include a flat rather than a studded bench, the inclusion of two Erlenmeyer flasks (which I intended to be in the set, but were not yet available in LEGO Digital Designer when I designed it) and two syringe parts that represent pipettes. The addition of extra beakers is a nice touch. Overall, I think this representation of a little chemical laboratory is very effective and I’ve had a similar vignette proudly sitting on my office desk for years. I will discuss the minifigure later on together with the other figures.
The second bag contains what will probably be the most popular vignette, the paleontologist with T-rex skeleton. Similar to the chemist instruction pages the booklet has some background decoration on the right pages, this time in the form of cute little dinosaurs. I was extremely excited to build the T-rex skeleton, because I had never actually built it before and the design was modified quite a bit. Main reasons for the changes were stability improvement and parts availability and the resulting dinosaur is a little bigger than my original design. It’s easy to see that this version is much sturdier though and I think in this case bigger is actually better. The tail part that I suggested originally was not approved for technical reasons so a different piece was used instead. A great alternative, because it really has a bone-like appearance. I’m really happy with how the final dinosaur skeleton turned out, especially since it is such a key element to the set.
The final vignette of the astronomer is again a relatively simple build. The most challenging part is getting the tiles to be neatly aligned, but I am pleased that this stayed true to my original suggestion. The vignette comes with a blackboard with an awesome new print of some constellations. I was very excited to see they included Orion since that is my personal favorite. The telescope itself is identical to my design, but the stand is different. I was determined to design a tripod, because it looks great and I didn’t know of any existing designs like that. Unfortunately, the stalk piece is not quite sturdy enough to support the telescope in that way so this had to be changed to a more stable solution. I think the result looks nice and it’s certainly more robust and play-friendly.
The set has three female scientist minifigures that are not identical to the ones I designed, but very similar in style. It was important for me to convey the message that most scientists wear casual clothing; only a few institutes have strict dress codes (apart from safety clothing worn in labs, of course). The chemist comes with a newly printed torso depicting a lab coat that is opened and an access/ID card around the neck. It’s great to get a new lab coat design in addition to the one they released for the collectible minifigure series. I was told the chemist figure was loosely based on me, but I would have to say I look more like my Alatariel avatar with light brown/dark blond hair and different glasses. Also, I strongly discourage wearing make-up in the lab, because it may cause contamination of the samples. I’m surprised they didn’t give her protective gloves though, like the previously released scientist figure had. In my personal version I will definitely change that, because safety comes first!
The chemist and paleontologist come with printing on the back of the torso and all minifigs have prints on both sides of the head. This is an awesome aspect to the figures, because the alternative facial expressions of panic and frustration really tell stories.
Personally, I think the play value of the Research Institute set is quite high. I can easily see the science stories unfolding, but maybe that’s just my nerdy imagination. My astronomer Dr. B.A. Star panicked when she spotted an asteroid plummeting towards Earth, the impact of which caused the T-rex to come alive and chase Dr. M.O. Lecule…
My collaboration with The LEGO Group has been an amazing experience and I would like to thank the whole team for the excellent work and Steen in particular for the great design improvements. Cheers to science and good play!