Bioengineering: Microfluidics to the Rescue! (Day 1 of 3)

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Students will explore the intersection of life science and engineering through a study of the field of bioengineering and create simulated microfluidic chips using household materials.

Big Idea

Get your students in engineering mode by creating and using simulated microfluidic chips!

Notes for the Teacher

Today is the first of a three day lesson series focusing on engineering practices.  

Day 1 starts with an introduction to the field of bioengineering and specifically the use of microfluidic chips.  

Standards: W.9-10.2, W.9-10.2d, SL.9-10.1  

During Day 2, students will design and fabricate their own microfluidic chip design.

Standards: SL.9-10.1, RST.9-10.3, SP3, SP6, SP8

And on Day 3, students will use their chips to observe laminar flow and reflect upon the engineering design process.

Standards: SL.9-10.1, W.9-10.2d, RST.9-10.3, SP3, SP6, SP8

I spent two summers at the Herr Lab at UC Berkeley learning about the field of bioengineering and the process of making microfluidic chips.  My students have enjoyed learning about a field that is new to them and that has the potential of helping people across the globe.  

Take a look at my short video for more about this lesson and how it fits into our new NGSS standards highlighting science and engineering practices.

This lesson is based upon the following resource:

Yang, Cheng Wei T., Ouellet, E. and Lagally, Eric T.  (University of British Colombia, Canada).  Using Inexpensive Jell-O Chips for Hands-On Microfluidics Education.  Published July 1, 2010.  Feature, Analytical Chemistry, American Chemical Society. Vol. 82, No. 13, pp. 5408-5414.  



Note:  This year (2015-2016), I found a great introductory resource set of E-books through our local public television station, KQED.  The four Engineering Is... E-Books series focuses on four projects related to bioengineering that include local scientist video interviews, short text readings and background information, and great photos and video clips.  I assigned each lab team to do a skit or some other creative role play to summarize and explain their specific project to the class (8 lab groups, two for each E-book, 5 minutes each to present in class).  I gave two days in class to prepare and I told student that no slide presentations or videos were allowed, that I wanted them to do a live performance.  It was a great introduction to bioengineering and flowed nicely into this introduction to microfluidics.  I hope you have as much fun with it as we did!

The Classroom Flow: Taking the Engineering Survey

10 minutes

1.  Pass out the engineering design notebook students will be using for the lesson series this week. 

2.  Ask students to open to the first page and quietly take the engineering survey.  Tell students that you will not be grading their answers but that the information will be used to compare to an identical survey given at the end of the unit to help you see what students learned and what they are interested in learning more about.

3.  Allow students to work quietly on the survey on their own for ten minutes.

  • Note:  You may extend the time out to 15 minutes for the survey but I tend to keep the timeframe short.  I want to get students' first ideas about the engineering questions rather than have them labor over perfect answers.  

The Classroom Flow: Introducing Bioengineering

10 minutes

1.  Announce that today we will be learning about a field of science known as bioengineering.  

2.  Ask students to discuss the following prompt in their lab groups:

What do you think of when you hear the word bioengineering?

What comes to mind when you hear the word microfluidics?

3.  Use the spokesperson protocol to gather group ideas and create a brief list on the board of their responses.

  • Note:  Most students will be unfamiliar with both terms but you can still have a great conversation about prefixes, suffixes, and root words (micro-, bio-, fluids, engineering) as a way of deciphering the meaning of a word that is new to you.
  • When I did this lesson this year (2015-2016), I included a brief exploratory session with the microfluidic chips I had created at the University laboratory.  If you have access, this is a great way to get kids really interested in the chips, making observations, and asking questions that you can address during the slide presentation later on.  I also found that doing a quick database search for bioengineering articles gave me a chance to share with them the wide range of projects that bioengineering encompasses.

The Classroom Flow: Slide Presentation

15 minutes

1.  Ask students to open up to the next page in their engineering design notebook that they will be using throughout the lesson series.  

2.  Have students take notes and ask clarifying questions as needed using this slide presentation to guide the conversation.

  • Note:  Students will be really curious about the ways that bioengineering can be used to help patients undergoing treatment, bring high medical care to third world countries, and in military settings.  In general, students will be quiet and concentrated on asking questions and recording notes during this session.
  • If you have access to chips, pass them out!  Your local university is a good resource for this.  If not, there are many examples online, in both image and video form.  I have included both in my slide presentation as well.

The Classroom Flow: Wrapping Up and Preparing for Tomorrow

15 minutes

1.  Write the following prompt on the board:

What information did you find new/most interesting?  

What are you curious about when it comes to bioengineering and microfluidic chips? 

2.  Use the spokesperson protocol to give students an opportunity to respond to and share out their thoughts and impressions about the material presented.  

  • Note: See student EDN samples of student notetaking pages for more information about the level of understanding  you can expect from students during their first time working with bioengineering concepts and practices.  For me, it led to reflections as to how I can better support their learning through the creation of a web resource list, an extended powerpoint resource, or a fill-in note page with graphics.  

 3.  Please see my cornerstone video shoot footage to see the protocol in action in our classroom. 

  • Note:  I created a supplemental slide presentation for teachers interested in learning more about the engineering design process.    It has supplemental references/resources contained within the presenter notes on each slide and gives a broader view of engineering education for your own information or to share directly with students.

On to Day 2!

  • Note:  This year (2015-2016), I revised the notes section of the revised EDN.  I feel that is was much more successful in this format, which listed the two major topic areas presented and essential questions for both areas (bioengineering and microfluidics) that could help students self-assess their learning.