Creative Ideas for a 3D Cell


Building and designing a plant or animal cell by hand helps students understand cell structure. Because cell parts, called organelles, are so small, enlarging a cell into a large, 3D size exposes the intricate network that makes plants and animals thrive. Plant cells, unlike animal cells, do not have centrioles, lysosomes, intermediate filaments, cilia or flagella. However, plant cells have additional features, such as a rigid cell wall, a central vacuole and chloroplasts. Create a cell with an imaginative twist by experimenting with materials.


  • Create a 3D clay cell using different-colored hard clays. Pick 5 or 6 colors for the clay ball to represent the organelles, or cell parts, like the mitochondria, nucleus, vacuole and so on. Start by rolling one color clay, like blue, in a smooth, round ball. If you do not want to use so much clay, you can also wrap the clay around a Styrofoam ball or a sphere made of another material. When the ball is formed, cut out a triangular wedge from the clay itself or the ball underneath. By decorating the wedge with the leftover base clay, and the other colors, you can point out the parts of the cell. Label the parts either with a number, which direct the viewer to a number key, or with full names of the parts.


  • Use candy to build a 3D cell. Create the spherical shape using something inedible, like clay or Styrofoam. Gather materials to furnish the cell with its parts. For example, use a jellybean for the vacuoles, a bonbon for the nucleus and gummy bears for the mitochondria. Further design the cell by connecting a string of gumdrops for the round endoplasmic reticulum and sprinkles for the lysosomes.


  • Buy a wooden sphere or rectangular block from an art supply store. You can use the sphere for animal cells and the rectangular block for plant cells. Saw out a triangular wedge from the wood sphere and leave the rectangular block as is. Use wooden cutouts, clay or colored plastic pieces to fill the cells with organelles. If you use wooden pieces, paint the pieces various bright colors, like orange and red, to distinguish each cell part.


  • Make a gelatin, or Jell-O, model of an animal or plant cell. For plant cells, use a rectangular cake pan to create the mold out of a gelatin mix and boiling water. For animal cells, use a Bundt cake pan, a thick ring-shaped pan. Before pouring the hot mixture into the pan to set, gather goodies to drop into the mixture. Grapes are ideal for vacuoles, spaghetti for the golgi and gumdrops for the lysosomes. Avoid using chocolate in the project, or any other food that will melt in boiling water. Do not limit yourself to edible objects for the organelles -- use marbles, rubber bands and confetti if you would rather not use up edible supplies.


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