Microbial Slime - Experiment

Run your tongue over your teeth. If it's been a while since you last brushed, you may feel a filmy or fuzzy coating on your teeth. What's there is similar to the slimy coating you might feel if you stuck your finger down into a sink drain or that you might see coating the sides and bottom of a swimming pool that hasn't been kept clean. These are all examples of biofilms.

Biofilms are communities of microbes. They form when bacterial cells able to make large amounts of sticky, slimy substances called polysaccharides (polly-sack-uh-rides) attach themselves to a surface. The slimy coating they make holds the cells to the surface they've settled on and captures other bacteria who live and grow off the waste products produced by the first bacteria. Layers keep being added, creating a complex community.

In this activity, you'll explore whether biofilms can form on all possible surfaces and which they grow best on. You'll also learn something about how we can prevent biofilm formation.

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Yeast on the Rise - Experiment

bakers_yeastAs you probably know from eating numerous meals, all breads are not the same. Tortillas and pitas are flat and dense, while loaves of sandwich bread and dinner rolls are puffy and lighter. In fact, if you look closely at a piece of sandwich bread, you can see a honeycomb texture in it where bubbles formed and burst. Why these differences? Aren’t all breads made of the same basic ingredients? What made those bubbles?

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Fun with Fomites - Experiment

coinFomites? What are fomites? This is a term for any inanimate object that can carry disease-causing organisms. Your cutting board, kitchen sink, the change in your pocket and even that pen you keep putting in your mouth are all fomites. Very few things we encounter in our everyday activities are sterile, or microbe-free, including us. At birth, microbes immediately begin colonizing our bodies as they do most every object in the world. They float around until they come in contact with a surface that offers food and shelter. You are most likely to find microbes in and on dark, moist objects that frequently come into contact with food, dirt or vegetation. Bathroom surfaces, hairbrushes, refrigerators, kitchen sinks and cutting boards often have lots of microbes on them. But doorknobs and walls have fewer because they are nutrient-poor and dry.

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Let's Get Small - Experiment

hairJust how small is a microbe? If you happen to read a report written by a microbiologist, you might learn that a poliovirus is 30 nanometers in diameter and that an E. coli cell is 3 micrometers long. But does that mean anything to you? Scientists use these measurement terms because microbes are so small, they cannot be measured using the more familiar inches or millimeters. (A micrometer is a thousand times smaller than a millimeter and a nanometer is one million times smaller than a millimeter.)

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Caught Dirty-handed - Experiment

When was the last time you washed your hands? Did you use soap? What have you done since you washed? Have you eaten, put your fingers in your mouth or touched someone else?

Observations in public restrooms have revealed that only about 68 percent of Americans wash up before leaving. Yet thorough hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infections. There are millions of microbes on your hands. Most are naturally occurring and harmless. But some may be disease-causing germs. Hand washing with soap lifts off those microbes and rinses them away.

Read more: Caught Dirty-handed - Experiment

Now You See It... Now You Don't! - Experiment

Maybe you’ve heard the term "biodegradable." It basically means something capable of being broken apart into simpler substances by natural biological processes.

But what are these biological processes that break some things down? Why do some things biodegrade more readily than others?

In this experiment, you’ll investigate the biodegrading process of commercial packing peanuts. Print out these pages and follow the directions to do this experiment at home. When you're done, come back to this page to test your newfound knowledge by answering the questions below. (No fair peeking at the answers before you've done the activity!)

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Bread Bag Nightmares - Experiment

As you know, we keep food in refrigerators so it will last longer. But still, sometimes you open a bag of bread or a jar of spaghetti sauce and what do you find? Mold!!

Ever wonder exactly what mold is? And how did it get there? And why sometimes it’s green and other times black or white? Did you know this stuff is alive and growing?

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Biosphere in a Bottle - Experiment

Think about the different places various kinds of plants and animal live. As you know, many, like penguins and cacti, can only live in certain places.

Now think about times you’ve dug a hole in the ground. Did you notice differences in the color of the soil layers? Did you wonder what causes those color differences?

Read more: Biosphere in a Bottle - Experiment

Creepy Critters - Experiment

galaxyWhat if a new planet was discovered that had life on it? Would you be able to figure out what known creatures these alien life forms might be related to? What would you look for to compare? How would you organize these different living things?

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Classroom Experiments

Here's your chance to be an amateur microbiologist.

You don't have to have a scientific degree and wear a white lab coat to do these activities. All you have to do is be willing to muck around with dirt, paint, pondwater and other sometimes gooky stuff.

Most of the activities here use supplies you should be able to find easily in your home or a nearby store.

Read more: Classroom Experiments

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