Adventures in Ethics and Science

Last week, the Free-Ride offspring and I used our Cell Project kit from Galaxy Goo to build some three-dimensional models of animal cells out of clay.


In addition to the instructions provided with the kit, we whipped out a biology text book to have a look at some photos of cross-sections of cells (enlarged a lot).

The instructions talked us through modeling the various organelles of the cell: the cell nucleus (including the nucleolus and the nuclear membrane), the endoplasmic reticulum, ribosomes, golgi body, mitochondria, vacuoles, and lysosomes.


The mitochondria, for example, we modeled (in blue) as jelly bean shaped. The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) we constructed as orange patties (sort of orzo-shaped) stuck together with crossbeams. The ribosomes were little purple balls nested among the ER.


These organelle instructions were pretty kid-friendly, but they didn’t render the details inside the mitochondria, for example.

Then, the instructions described surrounding these organelles with cytoplasm (white clay).

Actually, that part of the instructions could have used more detail. Wrapping the mostly spherical nucleus in cytoplasm was no problem, but wrapping cytoplasm around ER, ribosomes, and golgi body was a lot less intuitively obvious. (If our clay cytoplasm was more jelly-like, it would have been easy. Instead, it behaved like modeling clay. Go figure.)


Also, we ran out of cytoplasm. In future, we will make sure we have extra white clay for cytoplasm. This may help up end up with cells that are more spherical and less lumpy.


Once we wrapped the cells with our fragments of cytoplasm and an almost-sufficient layer of cell membrane, we let them dry for a week. Then we made some slices.

The interiors weren’t completely dry, which muddied up the detail on the slices a little. But we got some details we could recognize.

Even if we hadn’t discussed the various organelles (and what each of them does) when we were building our cells, this project would have been fun from the point of view of thinking about what two-dimensional slices you can get from three-dimensional objects. The sprogs were especially taken with how not all of the slices displayed the same organelles. That’s what happens when things are distributed heterogeneously.


I think the sprogs were pretty happy with the activity (except for the cytoplasm shortage). I’d prefer more detailed instructions of the less spherical organelles and on the organelle-into-cytoplasm portion of the assembly.


  1. #1 Warren
    June 19, 2009

    You could do something quite similar with sugar cookie dough and food coloring — and eat the results afterward! 😀

  2. #2 Erin
    June 19, 2009

    Wow. Very accurate!

    Also, edible cell sugar cookies = totally marketable.

  3. #3 Comrade PhysioProf
    June 19, 2009

    In future, we will make sure we have extra white clay for cytoplasm.

    In future!?!? What’s up with that shit, Jersey Girl!?!?!? AHAHAHAHAH!

  4. #4 becca
    June 20, 2009

    I think the lumpy cell with the large lysosomes on each end looks like it would be a good macrophage that has gobbled some bacteria.

  5. #5 Max
    June 24, 2009

    I hate when clay looks that tasty. Always causes me problems.

New comments have been disabled.