Saturday, February 7, 2009

5 Virtual Labs and More - The Genetic Science Center at the Univeristy of UTAH - UNIVERSITY OF UTAH

This is another wonderful find. The Genetic Science Center at the University of Utah. It has 5 virtual labs of very high quality! And a whole bunch of interactive resources. I'll do my best diagram them below with screen shots! :) Enjoy!

Link to main site:

As I mentioned, inside you'll find sections devoted to each area of genetics with animations, 3D visualizations, interactive hands on learning tutorials and labs! So go explore this site to its fullest!

Alright now for the quick links to the... 5 Virtual Labs!


PCR is a relatively simple and inexpensive tool that you can use to focus in on a segment of DNA and copy it billions of times over. PCR is used every day to diagnose diseases, identify bacteria and viruses, match criminals to crime scenes, and in many other ways. Step up to the virtual lab bench and see how it works! Click here!


DNA is extracted from human cells for a variety of reasons. With a pure sample of DNA you can test a newborn for a genetic disease, analyze forensic evidence, or study a gene involved in cancer. Try this virtual laboratory to perform a cheek swab and extract DNA from human cells.
Click here!


Have you ever wondered how scientists work with tiny molecules that they can't see? Here's your chance to try it yourself! Sort and measure DNA strands by running your own gel electrophoresis experiment. Click Here!

DNA microarray analysis is one of the fastest-growing new technologies in the field of genetic research. Scientists are using DNA microarrays to investigate everything from cancer to pest control. Now you can do your own DNA microarray experiment! Here you will use a DNA microarray to investigate the differences between a healthy cell and a cancer cell. Click Here!

Visit the mouse cloning laboratory. Click Here


Understanding the Vector ToolBox
Genes are made of DNA. Successful gene delivery requires an efficient way to get the DNA into cells and to make it work. Scientists refer to these DNA delivery "vehicles" as vectors. Click Here

DNA bases characteristically pair G with C, and A with T. Use these pairing rules and the nucleotides below to build a DNA strand containing five base pairs. Click Here


The DNA that makes up the human genome can be subdivided into information bytes called genes. Each gene encodes a unique protein that performs a specialized function in the cell. The human genome contains more than 25,000 genes. Cells use the two-step process of transcription and translation to read each gene and produce the string of amino acids that makes up a protein. The basic rules for translating a gene into a protein are laid out in the Universal Genetic Code. To see how this works, look over the diagram at the right. Then try it yourself in the activity below! Click Here

A karyotype is an organized profile of a person's chromosomes. In a karyotype, chromosomes are arranged and numbered by size, from largest to smallest. This arrangement helps scientists quickly identify chromosomal alterations that may result in a genetic disorder. To make a karyotype, scientists take a picture of someone's chromosomes, cut them out and match them up using size, banding pattern and centromere position as guides.
Click Here


  1. All right, these are virtual activities. By the definition of the National Research Council, they're not "labs." A lab requires student investigation using data, objects, and phenomena of the "material world." Flash animations are not that.

    Why bother to make this distinction? Because people naively think that a virtual activity is a valid substitute for real lab when it's called a "virtual lab." So, students lose labs and lose out on the quality of their science education.

    There's nothing wrong with using these virtual activities, just as there's nothing wrong with demonstrations and videos. It's just that none of them substitutes for the real thing: a great lab experience.

  2. Very true Harry. Although I don't think this blog has enough traffic to effect policy. :) And I don't think I can stop others from using the word. It's on the sites I'm posting the links from. But, I do take matters of public policy and funding very seriously. When things like "virtual labs" become talking points during budget cuts we have to watch out.

    I'll do some thinking about a replacement for the term "virtual lab." First of, simply calling them "Virtual activities" is too vague because simple narrated flash slides also count as virtual activities and they don't offer nearly the same experience. And I want my link clickers to be able to make that distinction. "Step by step interactive virtual walk throughs of lab protocols" is the most accurate description but that's terribly verbose.

    Maybe "Animated Lab Activities"?

  3. I suspect that no blog about science education has enough readers to cause any serious waves in policy. Too bad!

    I've been thinking about the "virtual lab" moniker for years without success. Even if we had a better term, I doubt we could get people to stop using the current one incorrectly.

    As you realize, the real problem with using the term "virtual lab" for a simulation is that people tend to believe that it's a valid replacement for true lab experiences. Those experiences now include some Internet-mediated options. After all, the Mars Rover program could be considered as a virtual science project because the scientists don't have their hands on the surface of Mars.

    Severe education budget cuts mean that alternatives to the current traditional science labs will be considered all over the country whether we like it or not. Labs will be eliminated. Safety and time have already eliminated some.

    We must have an alternative and some guidelines. Assuming that we can provide great science lab experiences virtually, what percentage of experience can be allowed to be that sort and still have a great science course?

    I believe that my own efforts with Smart Science® instructional units provides an excellent alternative to traditional labs. I have integrated into this system hands-on lab work to go right along with the virtual work. I've also insisted that the virtual labs have real experiments and that students collect their own personal data point by point.

    We can do even better still. However, we must stand against the replacement of the lab experience by fake labs that have no real science in them.

    A lab experience should provide for a better understanding of the nature of science, opportunities to improve scientific reasoning skills, and an increased understanding of the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work.

  4. Nice introductory tools. I'm keeping them in our synbio primer here for the BioMore GenoBlasts - Central Maryland's DIY-Bio Community.