The Virtual Lab Series


Bertalan has found the Virtual Labs Series, a fantastic educational resource produced for science teachers and students by researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The series includes the Transgenic Fly Virtual Lab, the Bacterial Identification Lab, the Cardiology Lab, the Immunology Lab and – my favourite – the virtual Neurophysiology Lab.

Each of the virtual labs has an interactive set of the appropriate apparatus, which comes complete with background information about the experimental setup to be used and the underlying biological concepts.

At the virtual neurophysiology lab, for example, you can learn how to isolate ganglia (groups of cell bodies) from leeches, so that the responses of individual neurons to mechanical stimulation of the skin can be measured. You can also investigate cell morphology by injecting virtual fluorescent dyes into the neurons.

The lab has background information about the leech and the electrical properties of nerve cells, a notebook providing details of each step of the experimental procedure, and tutorials on the use of the micromanipulator (on which the microelectrode is mounted) and the oscilloscope (the instrument with which voltage is measured).

It’s a shame that the electrophysiology of the leech neurons can’t be investigated further by patch- or voltage-clamping. Nevertheless, the virtual neurophysiology lab is both informative and fun, as are the other labs in the series.