Making a model of a biological cell is a project many students must undertake at some point. It may be a classroom project, or it may be a science-fair project; at some point, the project must be designed, started and completed. There are a variety of ways to complete a cell model, and all of these help the student learn to identify the parts of a cell.
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Modelling clay makes a great replica of the cell. Clay is easily shaped. Labels attached to toothpicks are easy to insert. The finished product can be displayed alone or on a stand. A large amount of one colour is used for the cytoplasm. Other colours designate the parts of the cell. If limited clay colours are available, try mixing colours. For example, a mottled green and blue shape may represent the nucleus, while a mottled green and yellow shape is the nucleolus within. Mixing colours can also save money, as purchasing many different colours of modelling clay can become expensive. Another way to save money is to make homemade coloured play dough. Watch this dough carefully as it dries, as it tends to crack.
Styrofoam or styrene balls also make a wonderful base for cell models. Start with a styrofoam ball or block, depending on whether an animal cell or a plant cell is planned. Cut the shape in half so that a cross-section of the cell is represented. Smaller styrofoam balls and shapes are added to represent other cell parts. Labels attached to toothpicks can be glued into place. The unused half of the shape can be hollowed out and fit on top of the model. This shows the outside of the cell as well as a cross-section.
Zipper Bag Cells
Food storage bags with zipper closures make great cell models. The plastic bag is flexible, much like a real cell wall. Corn syrup tinted with food colouring is the cytoplasm. Household items such as buttons, dried pasta, candy or small plastic toys represent the other parts of the cell. These objects move freely in the bag and liquid much as they do in a real cell. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to label the pieces in the bag. Instead, colour-code the parts and provide a key for easy identification.
Gelatin makes surprisingly realistic cytoplasm. Simply make the gelatin according to the directions on the package. Pour the liquid into a round pan for an animal cell, or a square pan for a plant cell. Allow the gelatin to partially set. Insert pasta, candy and other shapes to represent the cell parts. Use toothpicks to push the pieces into the semi-solid gelatin. Allow the entire project to completely harden. Pop the gelatin out of the mould and label the parts with flags on toothpicks.
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