members—high school juniors and seniors who work in the Cell Lab—are available to answer questions.
Cell Lab investigations vary from station to station. At one bench, visitors use toothpicks to scrape cells from the inside of their cheeks, fix the cells to a slide, stain the cells, and look at the cells under a microscope. The Lab Companion allows further investigation about the structure of cheek cells and any variations they may have noticed.
At another station, called “Testing Antimicrobials,” visitors make a hypothesis about which type of antibacterial cleaner—hand soap, bleach, or sanitizers—most effectively kill a common bacterium, Bacillus megaterium.
Participants test their hypotheses by using a fluorescent assay to expose bacteria to each agent. If bacteria are still present, they will glow green. If the agent killed the bacteria, the sample does not glow. This activity allows participants to test their hypotheses and see for themselves the impact of cleaning products on bacteria.
To make the experience as safe and authentic as possible, everyone entering Cell Lab must put on a lab coat, goggles, and gloves. This laboratory uniform protects the participants, keeps biological sample bacterial contamination to a minimum, and puts the museum visitor into the proper frame of mind. “The lab coat, goggles, and gloves are really a lab uniform, which becomes part of the experience. Our visitors really enjoy dressing as scientists do,” says Laurie Fink, director of human biology at the museum.
Visitors’ Responses to Cell Lab
Cell Lab has been open for almost 10 years and was the first wet-lab experience created for the public. It also has proven to be a popular attraction at the museum. During the past 10 years, evaluations have provided the museum with information about who visits Cell Lab, what activities they engage in at the different benches, and what their overall impressions of the experience have been. According to a summative evaluation conducted by Randi Korn & Associates, most of the visitors have been small groups of adults and children (often