Sunday, 2 November 2014

Lego Review -- Research Institute (21110)

Theme: Lego Ideas

Pieces: 165

Year: 2014



Lego’s Ideas program (formerly Lego CUUSOO) has yielded some really cool sets – cinematic fun like the DeLorean from Back to the Future and Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters, alongside real-world fun like the Mars Rover. And of course, there’s the stuff that could easily fit into more “regular” Lego releases, like today’s review – the Research Institute.

Developed by geoscientist and AFOL Ellen Kooijman (aka Alatariel), this set has attracted quite a bit of attention due to its female-centric nature. As much as I love Lego, they’re not above criticism, and Lego has copped a bit of criticism in the past for being a bit too…let’s say “boy-focused”. Though most themes tend to get a female presence, it tends to be a token one at best. The recent Friends theme is obviously intended for girls, but this has been a mixed bag for Lego too. It doesn’t fit in with other Lego themes, and as this letter from one of their young female fans points out, it seems a lot of the more exciting stuff is kept for the boys. So this set is not only an intriguing concept in its own right, but a good PR move for the company.


This set comes with three minifigures – the Astronomer, the Paleontologist and the Chemist.
All of them are printed with two faces – their standard faces are fairly neutral, and to some degree even interchangeable. The Chemist’s face is printed with what I assume are protective glasses, but they could easily pass as normal spectacles if you wanted (actually, she kind of looks like Modern Family's Ariel Winter, now that I think about it). The alternative faces a little more entertaining – the Astronomer has a strained expression with a squinting eye (for when she’s looking through the telescope), the Paleontologist has a grumpy face (presumably for staring intently through the magnifying glass) and the Chemist has a panicked face (for when an explosion occurs in the laboratory).


The Chemist is my favourite of the minifigs – with her labcoat and the little details like the lanyard printed on, she is most effective at conveying the image of a scientist.  The other two are perfectly fine too, but their more generic outfits means they could be from pretty much any City set. A couple of little touches – maybe the Paleontologist's necklace could have been a trilobite, for instance – would have added a lot here.   


Each diorama will likely only take you somewhere between 5-10 minutes to build, with the most complex being the Paleontologist’s, due to the dinosaur skeleton. Speaking of which, the dinosaur skeleton is easily my favourite part of this kit. Presumably a juvenile T-Rex, it immediately catches the eye and makes you wonder why Lego hasn’t spent more time creating prehistoric skeletons. As might be expected, it’s a little on the fragile side, but this doesn’t detract from its overall cool factor. A great centrepiece to the set.  

But the accompanying microscope is something of an odd inclusion. While it looks good as an additional piece of science equipment, it’s much too tall for the Paleontologist to look into directly. I think it might have been a better choice to feature a diagram board, similar to the Astronomer’s set-up – maybe with a dinosaur evolutionary timeline, or something like that. However, the magnifying glass is an appropriate addition, and actually works as a magnifying glass too.  

I expected the Chemist’s set-up to be the least interesting, but its exterior simplicity is actually quite cool. It’s immediately obvious that it’s some sort of chemistry set-up, but generic enough that it can be repurposed for a wide variety of uses. The Chemist’s diorama is also the most accessory-heavy. Naturally there are the bottles, jars and Erlenmeyer flasks we see, but the drawers and cupboard door at her workstation actually open too! They’re filled with needles and some cups, but in theory you could chuck pretty much whatever you want in there.


Though still quite fun, the Astronomer’s diorama is probably the weakest of the three. A proper observatory would be worth a full-scale set in its own right, and cramming it onto a 6 x 6 Lego base means that some of the detail is naturally going to be lost. Still, when viewed on their individual merits, the star chart and the telescope are cool pieces, though I would suggest using the set-up I've photographed here rather than the one depicted on the box.  


This set is not particularly easy to find in Australia. It’s a Lego Store exclusive, and we have precisely none of those in Australia. You can order it online, but postage is not cheap unless you’re buying a lot of other stuff too. How did I get it then? Well, my sister was recently travelling around Europe, and she tracked this down for me this in Copenhagen, of all places – unfortunately the London Lego store (which is amazing, I might add) was sold out at the time of her visit.


As a child I dreamed of being an astronomer, a paleontologist and a scientist at different points – so this set pushes all of the right buttons for me. The minifigures are fun, the dioramas are multi-purpose and the overall concept behind the set is fantastic.

There are many, many Lego sets that I “must” have upon initially seeing them, but with most the desire tends to fade away pretty quickly. Still, there are a handful that ingrain themselves on my psyche and truly do become necessary (I’m looking at you, Arctic Basecamp). The Research Institute is one such set. Though it’s not perfect, it’s quickly become one of my favourites for the year, and I would love to see it get a more mainstream release. Hopefully we’ll soon see Creator tackle a modular museum in which all of these guys could fit – that would be amazing.

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  1. Are they doing another female focused set in future? I think a civil engineer, a radiographer and a judge would be cool.

  2. Not that I know of -- but Series 13 of the Minifigures series should be out in January, and there will likely be quite a few female characters in there. And they haven't done a radiographer, but they did do a female surgeon back in 2012(?) -- you can see it here.

  3. A whisp of cotton wool from one of those beakers would add a touch of verisimilitude to the chemist's scene. Would it be possible to use other Lego bits to create an "after" scene, where there is the aftermath of a chemical explosion? -- Seymour Knutts

    1. Certainly possible. Might have to put it up on the Facebook page.