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BIOLOGICAL PROBLEM SOLVING EXPERIMENTS

Listed below are experimental research ideas that I have compiled from a variety of sources for a problem solving project that I require for all students-applied and college prep. Students identify a problem of their choosing and work toward solving it using their science process skills. Students are graded on their skill performance using a rubric that I developed for this project. This the first experience these students have had in our K-12 school system to do individual experimental research.

Many ideas on the list are environmental problems researched by my students in past years using organisms from the five kingdoms. Others are ones I have compiled from a variety of resource books. Some have come from me going through old biology manuals and revising the "canned" lab into a problem solving experiment. Please e-mail me if I can be of more help or can answer questions.

Judy Williams
Central City High School, Central City, NE 68826

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PROBLEM SOLVING EXPERIMENTS WITH PLANTS

  1. Can shredded Christmas trees be used as a mulch to enhance the germination of seeds and seedling growth?

  2. Will different soilless media cause seeds to germinate and grow at different speeds and will it effect the health of the seedlings?

  3. Does electricity have an effect on seed germination and seedling growth?

  4. Can pencil shavings be a source of nutrients for seed germination and seedling growth?

  5. What effect will different brands of chewing tobacco added to soilless soil have on seed germination and seedling growth?

  6. Does the pH level of soil with added herbicide effect seed germination and seedling growth?

  7. What effect does water with a high nitrate level have on seed germination and seedling growth?

  8. Will adding different concentrations of burned ashes to soil effect seed germination and seedling growth?

  9. Will scarified seeds germinate faster than untreated seeds?

  10. Are some tools better to scarify seeds than others? Is a nail clipper better than a file?

  11. How does scalding seeds (pouring boiling water over seeds) affect germination?

  12. How will different soaking times in clorex (bleach water) affect seed germination?

  13. How will different soaking times in hydrogen peroxide (3%) affect seed germination?

  14. Is seed germination affected by flowerpot's shape?

  15. Is seed germination affected by what flowerpot is made out of?

  16. Is seedling growth affected by flowerpot's shape?

  17. Is seedling growth affected by what flowerpot is made out of?

  18. Do cacti grow better in a wide or narrow pot?

  19. Is there a ratio between pot size and stem diameter?

  20. Is a clear plastic pot better than an opaque plastic container to grow plants in?

  21. Will seeds germinate and grow better in hydroponic solution rather than potting soil?

  22. Effect of cigarette smoke on the seed germination and seedling growth.

  23. Effects of carbon dioxide gas on seed germination and seedling growth.

  24. Does colored light affect the speed of seed germination?

  25. Effects of different kinds (or flavors) of sports drinks on growth of plant cuttings.

  26. Effects of different concentrations of hog manure on population growth of aquatic life.

  27. Effects of second-hand cigarette smoke on the activity level of insects.

  28. Will storing different kinds of a name brand popcorn at various temperatures effect the amount of popcorn that is popped?

  29. Will storing different brands of popcorn at various temperatures effect the amount of popcorn that is popped?

  30. Does the kind of hybrid popcorn seed make a difference in the popping process?

  31. Effects of different concentrations of acid rain pH on seed germination and seedling growth?

  32. How will soaking times in citrus fruit juices (tomato?, orange?) affect seed germination?

  33. Is there any advantage to adding a vitamin (example-A, C, D, other?) to starting mix of soilless soil for seed germination?

  34. Is there any advantage to adding a vitamin to the water for seed germination?

  35. Is there any advantage of varying the dosage of the vitamin to affect seed germination?

  36. What happens to seed germination if combination of vitamins are used?

  37. What happens to seedling growth if combination of vitamins are used?

  38. Will seedlings grow better if exposed at night to ultraviolet light?

  39. Will seeds germinate better if exposed at night to ultraviolet light?

  40. Develop a new and cheaper substitute for vermiculite (plastic packing material? coffee grounds?, etc.

  41. Develop or invent a starting mixture that is better for germination and seedling growth than commercial preparations.

  42. Is bone meal (an organic phosphate product favored by organic farmers) superior to super phosphate as source of phosphorus for plants?

  43. Is it better to water house plants by adding water from the top or by adding water to pan that plant and container sit in?

  44. Will plants grow larger and be healthier if given tea or coffee instead of plain water?

  45. Will seeds germination be affected if seeds are given tea or coffee instead of plain water?

  46. Develop or invent an automatic watering system that will provide a constant supply of water so that a plant will be neither waterlogged or too dry.

  47. What color of light improves germination percentage?

  48. What color of light shortens germination time?

  49. What is the effect of radiation on seed germination?

  50. What is the effect of citrus repellents on seed germination?

  51. What is the effect of home brewed insecticides on seed germination?

  52. Will the magnetic field of a horseshoe magnet affect the germination rate of radish seeds?

  53. Will the magnetic field of a bar magnet affect the germination rate of radish seeds?

  54. Will the magnetic field affect the growth of the seedlings?

  55. Will the magnetic field affect the size of the seedlings?

  56. Will the magnetic field affect the color of the seedlings?

  57. Do results differ if magnets are above and beneath germinated seeds instead of in horizontal plane?

  58. What is the effect of acid rain upon growth of roots of leaf cuttings (coleus?)?

  59. Will adding organic materials to soil affect the growth of young cacti?
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PROBLEM-SOLVING EXPERIMENTS WITH ANIMALS

Things to Remember: In investigations with living organisms, it is important to allow time for discovery! You need time to discuss the study, prepare materials, and do a trial run to work the ñbugsî out of the procedure. If the investigation takes too long for your class time, then spread the investigation for more than one day, but be sure to use the same animal each time. (Mark your animals, if necessary!) I do not allow students to use humans or other vertebrate animals for these problem solving experiments unless they complete all paperwork required by ISEF (International Science and Engineering Fair) rules and regulations.

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SENSORY PERCEPTION:

  1. Test the sense of smell of animals: Will they respond to food placed several inches away? At what distance is there no response?

  2. What is the response to a vibratory stimulus? Will they respond to vibrations?

  3. What is the response to gravity? What effect does gravity have on the their ability to move? Will they move horizontally and vertically at the same speeds? Is their weight a significant burden? Do those with heavier weights move slower than lighter one?

  4. Do they have a ñrightingî reflex? (Will they turn over and right themselves if placed on their backs?)

  5. Do they show any preference for rough or smooth surfaces--sand, mud, rocks with sharp points, or earth?

  6. Test the sense of touch to touch (tactile response) using a feather or the blunt end of a glass rod to test various areas of body. --Are all areas of body equally sensitive to touch?

  7. Test the effects of light. Set up the terrarium so that one end is dark and the other light. Where do not animals congregate? Experiment with light of different colors (wavelengths) by using colored cellophane paper or colored saran wrap. --Do they prefer red or blue light, or can they not tell the difference?
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LOCOMOTION:

  1. Measure the top speed at which they can travel. Prepare a bullÍs eye chart with concentric circles 5 mm apart. Start animal in the center and time its travel in one minute. Do this several times, rounding off the figure to the nearest millimeter. Is there much variation in distance traveled?

  2. Devise a method to determine the weight a snail can pull. It is reported to be able to pull 200 times its own weight, which is equivalent to a man pulling eight full-sized automobiles. Place varying loads directly on the snailÍs back and determine the maximum load it can carry. How much weight can it pull up an inclined surface?
    Example: with a thread, attach increasing amounts of plasticine to a vertically climbing snail until it comes to a stop. Do not over stress the animal. Observe its method of moving now. How much weight can it move in this way? How much can it lift relative to its body weight? Compare this to what a human can lift.
    When a land snail is placed on a sloping surface, it will usually creep uphill, not down. If, as it moves uphill, the surface is rotated (from a central pivot) so the snailÍs body becomes horizontal and begins to move downward, the snail can reorient itself and begins an upward course. This is called a geotactic response. Conduct an experiment to show whether this response is due to air currents on the animalÍs tentacles or to other factors.
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COPING WITH TEMPERATURE:

Temperature controls the speed of chemical processes, including those that affect the functioning of the organism.
  1. Effect of temperature on memory of an insect.

  2. Will behavior learned as a larva mealworm be retained in the adult or lost during metamorphosis?

  3. Effect of thermal acclimation on temperature selection by an invertebrate.

  4. Does temperature affect the speed of cold-blooded animals?

  5. Will they move faster when the temperature becomes warmer?
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FOOD PREFERENCES:

  1. In offering animals a choice of food, is it better to provide several different foods all at the same time, or limit the choice by offering the animal only two different types of food?

  2. Will a food type not eaten in a choice experiment be eaten if it is the only food available?

  3. Does the temperature of the environment alter food consumption?

  4. Do adult animals that have stopped growing, eat more or less than younger growing animals?
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OTHER IDEAS:

  1. Will different concentrations of aloe vera plant juices effect the regeneration of planaria?

  2. Will different colors of flour affect the behavior and activity of flour beetles

  3. Can pollutants cause insects to grow larger? live longer?

  4. Review the hand-outs with ideas for projects with plants. Which ones could easily be altered to be done with an invertebrate rather than a plant?
Many of these problems could be done using a variety of invertebrate animals. Commonly used by my students are cockroaches, crickets, land snails, planaria, daphnia, ants, and earthworms & nightcrawlers.

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PROBLEM SOLVING EXPERIMENTS WITH OTHER ORGANISMS

  • What effect will different brands of sunscreen have on the growth of bacteria exposed to UV radiation?

  • What effect will sunscreen have on the growth of bacteria exposed to different time doses of UV radiation?

  • Will sharing hairbrushes spread bacteria?

  • Effects of herbal extractions on growth of bacteria.

  • Compare effects of solar and boxed U-V radiation on yeast growth.

  • Effects of environmentally safe antifreeze on the growth of bacteria.

  • Effect of different pHs (acid rain) on aquatic protist life.

  • Effects of cigarette smoke on population density of yeast.

  • Effects of car exhaust on population density of bacteria.

  • Review lists of ideas with plants and invertebrates. Which ones could easily be altered to be done with a fungus, protist, or monera?
Many of these problems could be done using a variety of microorganisms. Commonly used by my students are different aquatic algae, different aquatic protozoa, mold, yeast, and bacteria.


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