Teacher Resources

Live Labs

Support for live developmental and cell biology labs using sea urchins can be found on our 300 page sister site, where you will find extensive resources for these hands-on classroom labs.

Our virtual labs and activities serve many purposes. We have designed these open-access activities for individual, group, or classroom use. In many cases, student us of the virtual lab module will be most valuable if used in preparation for hands-on lab experience in the classroom. Virtual labs may also serve as alternatives to lab experiences that may not be possible in the classroom setting because of limitations imposed due to time required for the actual lab, the expense of laboratory equipment, or safety. In particular, our Lab Bench is designed to help students have a hands-on experience and is a part of several modules.

Until recently, all of our activites have been programmed in Flash, designed for use with desktops and laptops. In October 2015, with the launch of our new web site, we now provide several of our activities (and the web site as a whole) with mobile compatibility (tablets recommended rather than phones). The modules that are available for mobile are listed below as having HTML5 programming; the ones currently only available in Flash are also listed as such.


Our virtual microscopy labs are designed to help students gain familiarity with the microscope as a laboratory tool. We encourage use of these virtual labs not to replace hands-on use of a real microscope (an experience that all students should have), but rather to better prepare students for the microscope lab experience.

We suggest using the virtual microscope tutorial to introduce students to the basic use of the microscope. Since there is no need to worry about damaging a virtual scope, we can introduce care and handling of the scope as the students use the virtual scope, rather than as a warning before the students even begin (as is necessary with real scopes). One advantage of this initial use of the virtual scope is that it engages students in actual use of the scope early on, giving them the context to review the critical care and handling steps when they are preparing to utilize a real microscope in the lab.

Suggested order of Microscopy teaching modules:

  • Step I - virtual Microscope Tutorial lab (HTML5)
    • structure & function of parts of the microscope
    • microscope quiz (under development)
    • finding the specimen
    • slide focus & light adjustment-low power
    • high dry (40X) power focus & light adjustment
    • care/handling of microscope (how to carry, adjusting focus knob, adjusting eyepiece, adjusting condenser knob, cleaning lenses)
    • specimen prep (under development)
  • Step II - hands-on Microscope Lab practical (ours under development - or substitue your own)
    • clean lenses
    • use prepared slides to practice low power focus & light adjustment
    • practice high dry (40X) power focus & light adjustment
    • prepare wet mount slides (or introduce in Step IV below)
  • Step III - virtual Microscope Measurement lab (Flash)
    • perspectives on size of specimen, choice of objective
    • calibrating the microscope
    • use of calibrations to measure specimens
    • choosing the right magnification for each specimen
  • Step IV - hands-on Microscope Calibration and sample measurement (ours under development - or substitue your own)
    • review (if introduced in Step II above) or introduce how to prepare wet mount slides
    • students calibrate their microscopes
      • we suggest having students use the same scope if possible through the school year
      • ...and calibrations can be written on tape and applied to the side of the microscope
    • practice sample measurements (different magnifications)
    • measurement quiz
  • Step V (advanced) - additional virtual microscopy techniques (under development)
    • K√∂hler illumination
    • cross-polarized light illumination
    • dark field illumination
    • high power (100x) oil immersion and lens care
  • Step VI - Microscope Compare (prototype; HTML5)
    • reasons for using different kinds of scopes/illumination
    • types of scopes
    • scale and perspective from different scopes
    • views of specimen with different techniques (Specimen Compare prototype; HTML5)

Other Modules:

Fertilization and Development (Flash)
This module introduces students to the spawning, fertilization, and early development of sea urchins. Students set up sea urchin fertilizations using the virtual Lab Bench, also used in other experiments on the site.

Embryology: Fertilization to Hatching (Flash)
This module follows directly from the fertilization lab, presenting an interactive time-lapse video of sea urchin development from fertilization to hatching. Students can pause the video at any step and learn more about each of the embryonic stages.

Analyzing Gene Function in Embryos: Injecting Morpholinos (Flash)
This module introduces students to modern molecular genetics techniques in the sea urchin, focusing on development of the calcium carbonate larval skeleton. Students first learn about the sea urchin life cycle, skeletal development, one of the genes involved in skeletal formation, and the modern technique of morpholino microinjection used to disrupt gene function in sea urchin embryos. Then students design a morpholino using the sea urchin genome, enter the virtual Lab Bench to prepare for the injection, inject embryos in our virtual microinjection room, and finally analyze the results of the experiment and compare samples with a simple statistical test.

Our Acidifying Ocean (Flash)
Now that the students have mastered the Lab Bench and learned about urchin fertilization, development and skeletal development, they conduct an investigation into the impact of ocean acidification on sea urchin larval growth. Students start by gaining background information on ocean acidification and utilizing an interactive chemical model of the process. Then, they enter the Lab Bench, set up and conduct the experiment, and analyze real data by measuring larval growth and examining and discussing the graphed data.

Urchin Anatomy (Flash)
This module explores internal and external anatomy of the sea urchin in an interactive tutorial.

Predator/Prey (HTML5)
This module is an interactive activity that illustrates food chain principles and the sea urchin's function in ecosystems as both predators and prey.

Ocean Acidification support files:

  • Download our Ocean Acidification lesson plan (modified in part from Vicki Soutar's lesson plan below): DOC format or PDF format
  • Download a more detailed lesson plan developed by Vicki Soutar, a high school teacher in Georgia, USA: DOC format or PDF format
  • Download an excel spreadsheet with the full measurement data and more statistics (ANOVA): XLS format or PDF format
  • The specific experiment in our virtual lab, with the European common sea urchins (Paracentrotus lividus), has not yet been published. But a similar study, using the purple urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus), has been published by our partner scientists Drs. Sam Dupont & Michael Thorndyke and their colleagues. Download that study for more information on the protocols and observed impacts of acidified water on sea urchin development:
    M Stumpp, J Wren, F Melzner, MC Thorndyke and ST Dupont, “CO2 induced seawater acidification impacts sea urchin larval development I: Elevated metabolic rates decrease scope for growth and induce developmental delay,” Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part A (2011) 160: 331-340.  (PDF format)
  • Our colleagues at the University of Gothenburg produced the Virtual Marine Scientist (VMS) virtual lab, a nice classroom follow-up to Our Acidifying Ocean. In VMS, students apply for "funding" to carry out an ocean acidification experiment of their own design (sea stars are one of the critters they can choose to study), gather the data, analyze it, and present it to their class in poster form.
  • For advanced study, part two of the above research, examining impacts of ocean acidification on gene expression in purple urchin larvae:
    M Stumpp, ST Dupont, MC Thorndyke and F Melzner, “CO2 induced seawater acidification impacts sea urchin larval development II: Gene expression patterns in pluteus larvae,” Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part B (2011) In press.  (PDF format)
  • Links: