MacICT has developed a LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 robot to simulate the operation of one of the high-tech instruments used by the Bragg Institute at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

MacICT’s lead robotics facilitator, John Burfoot, was given the exciting task to design, build and program a LEGO model that could simulate the operation of ANSTO’s TAIPAN – a triple axis spectrometer, used as a neutron scattering instrument.

John Burfoot, second from the right, with ANSTO staff on its first day of testing

John Burfoot, second from the right, with ANSTO staff on its first day of testing

The TAIPAN, along with other similar instruments, is located near the small nuclear reactor within the ANSTO facility at Lucas Heights, Sydney. It is situated alongside the reactor, and is therefore not open for inspection to the general public. ANSTO do have a viewing platform above the reactor floor, which is accessible to guests and school students, although the TAIPAN itself is partly obscured by the building’s design. Hence ANSTO’s desire to provide an accessible, miniature version of the TAIPAN to the public.

The TAIPAN is particularly interesting as it has three moving sections, or axes, to analyse data collected from a sample exposed to a neutron beam, generated by the reactor. The three main sections of the TAIPAN are the monochromator (which selects neutrons of a particular energy), sample (which scatters the neutron beam) and analyser (which analyses the energy of the scattered beam).  Click here for more information on the TAIPAN spectrometer.

ANSTO scientists Scott Olsen and Kirrily Rule, offering technical feedback

ANSTO scientists Scott Olsen and Kirrily Rule, offering technical feedback on the LEGO prototype

Like the real TAIPAN, the miniature LEGO® model allows for each section to be manipulated via a control panel. Anyone operating the LEGO® model will undergo a process of collecting light readings through a glass prism (which represents the sample). A domestic-grade laser pointer acts as the neutron beam. A series of EV3 touch sensors act as the control panel and have been programmed to gradually move each section independently of each other, around the sample prism.

The LEGO® EV3 TAIPAN prototype developed by John and MacICT incorporated a new feature of the LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 system known as “Daisy Chaining”. The daisy chaining feature allows one controller to have up to 12 more inputs and outputs by linking up to three additional EV3 controllers. The LEGO® TAIPAN model successfully daisy chains three EV3 controllers together. “We really put the new daisy chaining feature through its paces, and because of that we had some problems initially. We consulted with LEGO® EV3 experts globally, including the lead LEGO® EV3 software developer in France,” said John.

John also consulted with Engineering students from Macquarie University who participate in FIRST Australia events to assist with the final design. “About half way through the project I came across a design problem. I needed help to determine whether the solution could be an engineering or a programming one. The Macquarie University students, who also have extensive knowledge of programming LEGO® EV3 robots for various applications, helped me to see the solution required some creative programming.”

Luan Heimlich with Engineering students from Macquarie University

Luan Heimlich (Director of FIRST Australia) with Engineering students from Macquarie University

For more information about the TAIPAN spectrometer and how ANSTO plan to work with the LEGO prototype, you can click here to take you to an article on their website.