Many students are interested in plant cells, but designing a science fair project that involves plant cells can be difficult, especially in the older grades. In order to design a prize-winning project, you will need to choose a plant cell that is easy to see, either under a microscope or with the naked eye. You can also make a basic model of a plant cell and discuss the importance of each of the organelles.
Plant Cell Model
One of the most obvious science fair project ideas you can use that deal with plant cells involves building your own model of a cell. You can make a plant cell diorama out of a shoebox (for the cell wall). Cover the inside of the cell wall with construction paper for the cell membrane, and insert organelles made from different art supplies, such as yarn, buttons, beads, clay and pom poms. You also can make an entire cell model from different colours of clay. Alternatively, consider making an edible plant cell model. For example, you might use strings of thin liquorice for the endoplasmic reticulum, a large ball-shaped sucking candy for the nucleolus and fruit roll-ups for the cell membrane.
Plant Cells and Osmosis
You can actually see the results of osmosis in an onion cell. To do this, simply prepare several saltwater solutions in graduated cylinders, one with .5 per cent sodium, one with 1 per cent sodium, and one with 3 per cent sodium. Then prepare one more graduated cylinder with pure water. Cut small, identical pieces of red onion and place one in each solution, as well as one in a dry area. After several minutes, prepare labelled slides with each of the cells and look at them under a microscope. You should be able to see obvious differences between the slides. Research osmosis to understand why this is so. (Hint: Think about when the salt from the solution would enter the cell, and when any solute in the cell would exit into the solution.)
Celery is a particularly wise choice for a project on plant cells because the cells in celery are big enough to be (barely) seen without a microscope. Slice off the bottom of a fresh piece of celery and the bottom of an old piece of celery, and compare the difference between the cells in the two of them. Then stick both stalks into a cup of water mixed with food colouring. The food colouring should travel up the stalks through the xylem--the tubes that carry liquids up through a plant's stem. You can see the xylem on each stem by looking at the bottom, cut area. You should be able to see small coloured circles that show where the food colouring went up. Discuss how quickly the cells in the celery were able to send the liquid up in the two samples of celery.
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