Learn Your Way Around the Lab

You could read Wikipedia pages and watch MOOCs online till you’re blue in the face, and you’d still be completely lost if you stepped foot into a lab. Labs are brimming with equipment, glassware,and chemicals, and each experiment or process has proscribed procedures that need to be followed. Sound like a lot? It is. Luckily I’ve got a few resources for you.

Labster’s Virtual Labs

Labster Virtual LabsLabster is an awesome resource to help you understand lab work. It’s a computer simulation of being in a real lab and following lab protocol all wrapped up in a story. The first module takes you through a CSI crime scene. I’ve played the first portion of this using my Galaxy Edge and an Oculus headset (you can play on the computer with a mouse, but a virtual lab is pretty unbeatable). It drops you right into the action. You start out in a room with blood on the floor and your boss in front of you, ready to walk you through what likely happened. It’s up to you to figure out who the killer is by taking samples, performing PCR, etc.

Notice I said “play.” The idea behind Labster is that education hasn’t really gotten better with technology. To paraphrase Labster, where we once had books, we now have ebooks, where we once had blackboards we now have smartboards, but the info is still as static as ever. Labster changes that by making things interactive. They boast some pretty big improvements on learning and retention achieved using their system, and as they say in their TED Talk, now everyone learn in a state of the art laboratory. They’ve laid things out like a game with you in the environment, and I for one am pretty excited to see how far they can go with this. Check out their original TED Talk as well as a list of modules the currently offer.

Labster Modules

Here are just a few of the 40+ modules that Labster offers under various headers such as chemistry, biotechnology, ecology, biochemistry, and more

Biotechnology

  • Biological circuit
  • Biosafety
  • Genetically engineered machine
  • Molecular cloning
  • Synthetic biology
  • etc

Cellular and Molecular Biology

  • Cell culture basics
  • Gene expression
  • Gene regulation
  • Meiosis
  • Mitosis
  • etc

YouTube

Since YouTube was first created, it’s been a source of some awesome tutorials for subjects as disparate as coding and dancing. Turns out the same is true for lab work. Not long ago, I stumbled onto a huge playlist that includes step-by-step guides for things like pipetting, because yes there is a technique to that, and if you do it wrong it can mess with your results.

lab protocols

These videos are not for the brand brand new, and the publishers sometimes do and sometimes don’t take the time to define the terminology they use, but I still found them very helpful. I’ve linked to their playlist page so that you can see one procedure from start to finish instead of grabbing a video at random.

Their newest video was posted in 2013, so don’t expect a lot of new content. That being said, the walkthroughs they provide are great, especially for people who have not spent much time in a lab.

University of Utah Virtual Labs

Virtual PCR ExperimentThese aren’t the same as what Labster has going on, but they are still good, nonetheless. University of Utah, which we have to thank for their awesome contribution to our DIY gel electrophoresis page, has created several “virtual labs.”

These are essentially flash games that walk you through some of the procedures and have brief paragraphs about the science behind it all. Click here to check them all out. These labs include:

  • DNA extraction
  • PCR
  • Gel Electrophoresis
  • DNA Microarray

Labtutorials.org

Last and probably least is labtutorials.org. This website may appear ancient, and it probably is, but it still has some good information on it. It’s a bit deceptive when you arrive there as the underlined bullets are not actually links, as is the convention, but rather the red-ish text identifies a hyperlink to some lab tutorial or protocol. (I know, my own links are colored and not underlined, but you’ll notice I don’t underline anything in order to avoid confusion).

Here are some of the guides they have:

  • Lab grade water
  • Cell culturing basics
  • Transformation
  • QPCR
  • etc

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