How to make a 3D cell membrane model

Written by jeremy cato
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How to make a 3D cell membrane model
These cells are protected by a cell membrane. (cells 72 image by chrisharvey from

Our bodies, and indeed the bodies of all living organisms, are made of cells. These cells direct and control all of the body's functions. However, our cells could not do anything if they were not held together by a strong cell membrane. The cell membrane of each cell regulates the movement of particles into and out of the cell. One excellent way to understand a cell membrane is to make a model of one.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 2 packages of 1-inch styrofoam balls, 30-count
  • Styrofoam cutter
  • Large container of craft glue
  • Large styrofoam cube, 6 cubic inches
  • Scissors
  • Large package of pipe cleaners
  • Large package of multicoloured, modelling clay
  • Invisible tape
  • 4 small, plastic coiled toy (like a Slinkie)
  • Small package of pom-poms
  • 1 index card, any size
  • Pen
  • 7 toothpicks

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  1. 1

    Use the styrofoam cutter to cut all of the styrofoam balls from both packages in half. Glue styrofoam ball halves to the top and bottom of the cube; glue enough halves to the top and bottom of the cube to completely cover these areas. If necessary, cut some of the halves again so they will fit on the cube. You should still have enough halves left over to complete the remaining steps.

  2. 2

    Cut all of the pipe cleaners into four equal pieces. Take out four colours of modelling clay and from three create a 6-inch long and 1-inch wide shape like a hot dog bun. Do this by taking some clay from each colour and rolling it into a log with rounded ends, then using the scissors to split the log lengthwise like a hot dog bun. Leave one of the logs uncut.

  3. 3

    Glue more styrofoam halves to the sides of the large styrofoam cube. Glue them to the top and bottom of each side of the cube so that the middle area of each side is empty. Leave two 1-inch gaps where no halves are glued on the top and bottom of each side (so you will have four, aligned gaps in total on each side).

  4. 4

    Glue two pipe cleaner pieces under each styrofoam half on the sides of the cube. The halves at the top should have the pieces glued under them and the halves at the bottom should have two pipe cleaners glued above them, so that all of the pieces are glued in the middle area.

  5. 5

    Glue the clay pieces into four of the open gaps along the sides of the cell membrane. Tape the four spring toys into the remaining four open spaces on the cube. Glue the pom-poms onto the top of the cell membrane model. Space them out evenly.

  6. 6

    Label the various parts of the cell membrane. On the index card, write the following words in large print: Phospholipid Head, Phospholipid Tail, Fibrous Protein, Glycoprotein, Pore Protein, Channel Protein and Molecule. Draw boxes around each word and cut out the boxes. Tape each word to the end of a toothpick.

  7. 7

    Insert the "Phospholipid Head" label into one styrofoam half at the top of the model. Insert the "Phospholipid Tail" label into the centre of the model near the pipe cleaner. Insert the "Fibrous Protein" label into the centre near one of the springy, coiled toys. Insert the "Glycoprotein" label into the one clay log that was left uncut. Insert the "Pore Protein" label into one of the split-open clay pieces. Insert the "Channel Protein" label into one of the other split-open clay pieces. Insert the "Molecule" label into the top of the model near one of the pom-poms.

Tips and warnings

  • Many of the items included in the Things You'll Need section of this project are described as "large." This generally means the largest size or container available at the store where you purchase the items. This will ensure that you have more than enough materials to complete the project.
  • The pipe cleaners and pom-poms you purchase can be either multicoloured or of one colour. It is up to you.
  • The coiled, springlike toys mentioned in the Things You'll Need can be purchased at party supplies stores and only cost about 25 cents.

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