Toys That Inspired Scientific BreakthroughsS

Anyone who reads Giz with any sort of regularity knows that we don't try to hide our affinity for toys. But for some brainiacs, toys like the Etch-a-Sketch aren't just diversions, they're launching pads for important scientific discoveries.

Scientific American rounds up 4 instances in which tiny toys led to some big answers, including the story of a nanoscale transistor that was invented by a physics professor who had the Etch-a-Sketch on the mind.

While visiting Germany's University of Augsburg in 2006, [Professor Jeremy Levy] observed a tiny chip made of two insulating layers. The chip intrigued Levy because the area between the layers could switch properties-from insulating to conducting, and back again-when researchers applied voltage. "While they were showing me the data, I was thinking about Etch A Sketch," Levy says.

To draw lines, the toy's stylus scrapes aluminum powder from the underside of a glass screen. Levy wondered if an Etch A Sketch approach could build on the German researchers' findings to draw and erase nanowires?

Head over to Scientific American to see the rest of the lot. Just don't blame me if you find yourself unable to build a LEGO set without thinking of "Directional Locking and the Role of Irreversible Interactions in Deterministic Hydrodynamics Separations in Microfluidic Devices." [Scientific American via BoingBoing]

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