SICB Annual Meeting 2018
January 3-7, 2018
San Francisco, CA

TAL-X Workshop: Biology on a Budget - Sharable DIY Bio Lab Activities

Saturday January 6, 7-9pm, (Room TBA)

This year’s Teaching and Learning Workshop will focus on easy to Do it Yourself (DIY) citizen science, presented by Dr. Larry McPhee of Northern Arizona University. The workshop will be a two-hour round table format with drinks and desserts. Participants will have an opportunity to experience six examples from the many available fun and informative activities on Dr. McPhee’s website (

Description: One of the significant challenges for Biology instructors is that, while they are generally well prepared academically, and the textbook is usually pretty good, they often lack a collection of inexpensive, reliable, and interesting lab activities that can reinforce the concepts introduced during lecture. Developing successful lab activities can be challenging, especially when one needs to do so on a budget, or in support of online instruction. This 2 hour hands-on workshop will enable participants to conduct several 15-minute activities, each covering an important topic in biology. These activities are designed to utilize low cost, easy to obtain materials that students can safely conduct on their own, at home or in the classroom, in small groups.
The fun and interesting activities we will do in the workshop are representative of a larger set of activities available for free online at, under an open courseware creative commons license. This collection of labs is ever-growing, and with help from community college and university Biology instructors to offer free, high quality, low-cost activities for anyone.

Example Activities: in a round robin format, with groups of 4-5 and a facilitator at each table, participants will rotate through each activity. The activities come with a set of instructions, a materials list, and a set of questions to underscore key concepts.

1) Felt-tip pen chromatography: participants will use a variety of solvents to explore the solubility of felt-tip marker dyes on coffee filter paper.

2) DNA Extraction: participants will gargle salt water to liberate cheek epithelial cells, and use a variety of common household chemicals such as shampoo and rubbing alcohol to extract DNA.

3) Caloric Content of Food: participants will heat a known volume of water by burning an almond and a Cheez-It cracker to determine the number of calories per gram contained in each food.

4) Bird Beak Competition: participants will simulate a scramble competition in order to determine the effectiveness of a variety of beak types at capturing a range of prey items with varying morphologies.

5) Disease Transmission Lab: participants will simulate the outbreak of an epidemic by exchanging fluids in cups, one of which contains an invisible marker that will reveal who’s been infected at the end of the simulation.

6) Population Growth: participants will use Microsoft Excel to model exponential and logistic population growth, varying parameters such as the growth rate and initial population size.