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Yes. You Can Take A Science Lab Online.

November 16, 2015 by Coventry Kessler |

Screen Shot Bio 105 Online Lab

Some things once seemed impossible: Cordless phones, cooking without heat (hello, microwave!), “test-tube” babies. Add to that list really good science labs conducted online.

Wait! Don’t science labs need beakers, test tubes, dangerous chemicals, and the close supervision of a worried instructor to make sure you don’t blow yourselves up?

No. Mostly a science lab needs the kind of equipment (and questions) that will allow you to solve problems in the same way scientists do, in a valid and reliable experiment.

Fortunately, UNCG’s innovative BIO105: Major Concepts in Biology science lab online is set up to do just that. In addition, it’s just cool.

 The course is set on an imaginary island inspired by “Lost” and introduced by an actor scientist. You wander through evocatively named sections (Cousteau, Darwin, Laveran, and Romero) and use the scientific method to analyze intriguing case studies on important biological topics.

  1. What is the link between bacteria and the development of cells that can support multi-cellular organisms like humans (endosymbiosis)? (cell development)

  2. Why does the sickle cell trait arise and persist in certain populations, even though sickle cell anemia is so devastating? And what does this have to do with malaria? (natural selection)

  3. Why are so many bird species disappearing from the island, and what can be done to revive them? (ecology)

  4. Can humans really be turned into zombies? (human nature)

(This last question sprang from a the case of a “real” zombie, Clairvius Narcisse of Haiti, who apparently died and was buried in 1962, but returned decades later claiming to be a zombie. Native sorcerers eventually revealed the natural cause of the transformation.)

The lab part of the course lets you use basic “kitchen science” — with ordinary supplies like yeast, sugar, eggs, molasses, glass bottles, balloons, baking soda, elodea (a water plant available in most pet stores), a basal body thermometer, measuring spoons, etc. — to conduct simple home experiments exploring the same key topics.

  1. Yeast and fermentation experiment. Probably no single-celled organism has had a greater influence on human history than yeast, a key element both in brewing beer and making bread, two of mankind’s staples. Which sugars are the most effective in producing fermentation with yeast? How can you measure?

  2. Ecosystems: landfill and photosynthesis experiments. First you study how producers, consumers, and decomposers each affect the ecosystem. You then build a model landfill in a plastic specimen jar, dividing trash into categories (1. metal, plastic, rubber, 2. paper, newspaper, cotton, 3. popcorn and other non-processed foods) to figure out the role of decomposition and then the role of photosynthesis.

  3. Creating a designer dog. Using your knowledge of natural and artificial selection, you determine whether it’s possible to create a designer dog that can rid the island of vermin that are destroying local bird populations.  

  4. Chronobiology: How circadian rhythm affects human behavior. You measure your own reactions and cycles to see how you are affected by diurnal rhythms.

Science doesn’t always require a mass spectrometer or a Large Hadron Collider. Gregor Mendel worked out the science of genetics growing garden peas. UNCG’s BIO105: Major Concepts in Biology teaches you the major ideas of biology while letting you conduct cool lab experiments in your very own kitchen.


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