Organisms in Motion: Practical Applications of Biological Research

What You Need


  • Lab Notebook


  • Per Student or Pair of Students
    • 1 flat microscope slide
    • 1 cover slip
    • 1 concave (depression) microscope slide
    • Microscope
    • Lens paper
  • Per class
    • Protist samples
    • 4 transfer pipettes
Organisms in Motion: Practical Applications of Biological Research


To explore the ways in which a scientist is applying research on animal locomotion for practical human uses, examine the locomotion of microscopic protists, and propose potential practical applications of their observations.


High-school students often fail to see the importance of science and scientific research. In this lesson, students will watch a video showing the work of a scientist who devises practical real-world applications of his research into animal locomotion. One of the common misconceptions of high-school students addressed in the Benchmarks for Science Literacy is confusing science with technology. The video shows scientific research which was done to increase knowledge, but also has applications for technology.

Students also will observe protists under the microscope, concentrating on their different methods of locomotion. Students should be able to prepare a microscope slide and use a microscope prior to the lab activity. They also should know basic information about the Kingdom Protista and the individual protists to be observed. They will propose possible applications of what they see and learn.

While going through this lesson with your students, it is important to remember that students in this grade level should develop sophistication in their abilities and understanding of scientific inquiry. They should understand that experiments are guided by concepts and are performed to test ideas. One challenge for educators is to make scientific investigations meaningful. This lesson seeks to do so by introducing students to research being done to solve real-world problems and develop new technologies.

One thing to look out for is that high-school students often don’t distinguish between the roles of science and technology—they believe that science serves the public interest while technology is viewed less favorably. This lesson also should help to overcome this misconception.

Planning Ahead

Protists are available from Carolina Biological. The Protozoa Survey Set includes Paramecium, Amoeba, Euglena, and Volvox, in addition to two other protists. The Basic Protozoa Set includes Paramecium, Amoeba, and Euglena. Volvox barberi can be ordered separately.


Engineers often use their knowledge of science and technology, together with design strategies, to solve practical problems. In this part of the lesson, students get the chance to see this process in action by viewing and discussing a video.

Students should use their Organisms in Motion student esheet to watch Conversations with a Scientist: John Dabiri. In this video, Dr. Dabiri, a biophysicist at the California Institute of Technology, discusses jellyfish, submarines, blood flow, and wind farms. Once they are done, ask students these questions:

  • What were Dr. Dabiri’s interests when he was in school?
    (His interests were mechanical and aerospace engineering.)
  • How has he applied those interests to the study of biology?
    (He has used his biological research as a basis for engineering changes in mechanical devices.)
  • What organisms has Dr. Dabiri studied?
    (He has studied jellyfish and fish.)
  • What practical applications has he devised using his research?
    (He has applied his research on jellyfish to devising a method of propulsion for submarines and a potential method for diagnosing heart problems. He has applied his research on schooling fish to placing windmills in more efficient locations within a group of windmills.)
  • What other organisms might be useful for studies of locomotion?
    (Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)
  • How might we use our research into the locomotion of those organisms in the real world?
    (Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)


The video of Dr. Dabiri’s research demonstrates how scientists often look to the natural world to try to gain insight into what works and what does not. Imitating nature in human technology is known as biomimicry. These observations help engineers create new inventions and design improvements to existing technology.

Ask your students: “Can you think of some examples of biomimicry?” (Student answers will vary. Encourage them to explain their answers.)

In this part of the lesson, students will have a chance to learn more about a living organism and how it moves and then apply that knowledge to design, draw, and describe a practical application of one of the methods of locomotion they observed in the lab.


Introduce the laboratory activity by discussing basic information about the Kingdom Protista. Point out that while Paramecium, Amoeba, and Euglena are single-celled organisms, Volvox is a colony of individuals. Ask why protists might be good organisms to study in a high-school classroom.

Distribute the Locomotion in Protists student sheet. Direct the students to make their observations in their lab notebooks. Review the directions for the lab, focusing on proper microscope use and slide preparation. Stress that students should put Paramecium and Euglena on flat slides with coverslips and use both low and high power on their microscopes, and that they should put Amoeba and Volvox on depression slides with no coverslips and use low power only.


As students go through the lab, ensure that they are correctly locating the organisms under the microscope. If possible, project either your own slide or images of the protists.


Discuss the different modes of locomotion (cilia, flagella, pseudopods) seen in the protist samples. Use these questions to guide discussion:

  • How are cilia and flagella similar? How are they different?
    (Cilia and flagella are both appendages used for locomotion. They are structurally similar. Cilia are short, while flagella are long. Ciliated cells will have hundreds of cilia, but flagellated cells will have only a few flagella. Cilia beat back and forth, while flagella undulate, like a wave.)
  • Describe the movement of the Amoeba.
    (A pseudopod extends out, and the cell moves in the direction of the pseudopod.)
  • What is happening within the cell as Amoebae use their pseudopods?
    (The cytoplasm is moving toward the pseudopod. This movement is called cytoplasmic streaming.)
  • How are pseudopods useful to Amoebae?
    (Amoebae are heterotrophs, and they must ingest food to survive. Pseudopods help them move to locate food. Also, they use their pseudopods to surround and ingest food.)
  • How are cilia useful to Paramecia?
    (Paramecia are heterotrophs, and they must ingest food to survive. Cilia help them move to locate food. Also, they use their cilia to sweep food into their oral grooves.)
  • How are flagella useful to Euglenas and Volvox?
    (Euglenas and Volvox are autotrophs, and they must photosynthesize to survive. Cilia help them move to areas of light, which they detect using eyespots.)
  • How are Volvox able to coordinate their movements? How is this similar to the schooling fish in the video? How is this different?
    (Volvox individuals within the colony are attached to each other by strands of cytoplasm. Both Volvox colonies and fish schools consist of individuals that move in a coordinated manner. Volvox individuals are physically connected, while fish are not.)
  • In what areas might these methods of locomotion have practical uses?
    (Answers will vary, but will likely center around transportation in water.)


Students should design, draw, and describe a practical application of one of the methods of locomotion they observed in the lab. To do this, provide pairs of students with the Bioengineering Design student sheet. This sheet provides students with directions for doing this design project. Also provide students with paper, pencils, colored pencils or markers, and rulers. Students should work together and brainstorm some ideas. You may want to remind them to be respectful of each other’s ideas and to be sure to record all of their ideas and to build on the ideas of others.

Once students have finished describing and drawing their design, ask them to present their designs to the whole class.


Have students create an advertisement for the technology they designed.

Have students read about the Big Dog and the Robotuna, both examples of biomimicry, and have small groups of students discuss how science research was used to create practical technological applications.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards