March 26th, 2024

What educators love about the Microbe Hunters virtual lab


The Microbe Hunters virtual lab

Last fall, we announced the release of Microbe Hunters Digital, a free, virtual lab activity based on miniPCR bio’s space-themed Microbe Hunters Learning Lab. Since then, more than 100 educators have registered their free accounts. How are they responding to the lab?

Microbe Hunters Digital was rated by an early cohort of beta testers to be “more compelling” than other digital activities they have deployed in their classrooms. Users cited the realistic scenario, connection to the International Space Station (ISS), and opportunity for student choice as the lab features they found most valuable.

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Students learn about DNA and biotechnology as they work to solve a space biology mystery.

“The scenario comes from ‘real life,’" said one tester. “I love that students are able to collect and analyze data with an end goal that actually means something.”

Among educators who involved their students in the beta test, the platform was perceived as “very educationally valuable” for students. Beta testers acknowledged a desire to provide their students with hands-on training, but cited the cost of materials and lack of instructor training as formidable barriers, and noted that Microbe Hunters Digital partially overcomes these. Additionally, one user’s impression that the accessible format helped her class of English language learners master technical concepts demonstrates the platform’s potential for engaging underrepresented populations.


Students work with scientists and astronauts aboard the ISS.

“I especially liked the clear cut and easy to comprehend format,” she reported. “Because my students' first language is not English, concise and clear labs are key to their mastering concepts and not getting bogged down trying to comprehend the steps/theory.”

In Microbe Hunters Digital, students work virtually with scientists and astronauts to solve a real-world space biology problem aboard the ISS. Through interactive simulations, students use biotechnology to run experiments, interpret results, and answer assessment questions.

The 45-minute activity introduces students to essential laboratory tools including polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and gel electrophoresis while immersing them in an engaging space biology scenario based on real-world environmental monitoring protocols aboard space habitats: Students must determine which of the ISS’s modules have been contaminated with a dangerous bacterial pathogen before crew members are infected. Geared toward high school students, the learning activity is accompanied by tools to support its implementation in classrooms, including autograded assessment questions and a teacher dashboard to facilitate the monitoring of student progress.

Microbe Hunters Digital is freely available for use at Register your account to start learning today!