Sir Harry Kroto, professor of chemistry at Sussex University, described Lego as "pretty linear" in comparison with the old standard, Meccano.
He bet that 100 per cent of British engineers over the age of 40 had Meccano when they were kids. Constructions could be formed in various way and bolted together to give the feeling of real building. That improved skills.
"Now computers have replaced Lego," he lamented.
Professor Kroto described calculus as vital to key aspects of science but berated students' lack of understanding of ratios.
Watching them trying to enlarge or reduce something at the photocopier proved his point, he said.