How to Make a 3-Dimensional Animal Cell Model

A three-dimensional model of an animal cell allows for an increased understanding of the spatial organization of the cell. This understanding of the structure of the cell better illustrates the function of cell components and the role they play in various cellular processes. The three-dimensional shape of the cell also more clearly illustrates how the cell interacts with its external environment –something you may not fully appreciate when using two-dimensional images.

Things You'll Need

  • 1/2-gallon sealable plastic bag
  • Coffee can
  • Clear, unflavored gelatin
  • Water
  • Bowl
  • Spoon
  • Plum
  • Mandarin orange slices
  • Gum drops
  • M&Ms
  • Jawbreakers
  • Cake sprinkles
  • Fruit roll-up


    • 1

      Place a sealable plastic bag in a coffee can to hold the bag open and upright. The bag will represent the cell membrane.

    • 2

      Create the cytoplasm using clear gelatin. Make enough gelatin to fill the bag two-thirds full. Slightly reducing the amount of water called for in the package instructions will give the gelatin a thicker consistency.

    • 3

      Pour the liquid gelatin into the bag until the bag.

    • 4

      Close the bag of gelatin (still in the coffee can) and place in the refrigerator for approximately one hour. This allows the gelatin to partially set but still be malleable.

    • 5

      Open the bag and add the model components of the cell. Some choices for a 1-gallon size model include: a plum for the nucleus; mandarin orange slices for the mitochondria; differently colored fruit rolls for the Golgi complex, smooth endoplasmic reticulum and rough endoplasmic reticulum; cake sprinkles for the ribosomes; and several gumdrops, M&M’s and jawbreakers for peroxisomes, lysosomes, and vacuoles. Additional items may be chosen to represent additional structures or items may be substituted due to availability and scale.

    • 6

      Seal the bag and remove from the coffee can. The model is now complete.

    • 7

      Refrigerate the model until ready for display to reduce spoiling.

Tips & Warnings

  • For smaller models, use a smaller bag, less gelatin, and substitute more appropriately scaled objects for the cell components.
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  • Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

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