In a previous post I confessed my love for epidemiology. In fact, I love pretty much everything to do with biology and the medical sciences. Bugs included. And when I say “bugs”, I mean both land invertebrates (aka insects) and the smaller kinds, the ones you need a microscope to see them, such as various types of bacteria.
Bacteria are cool! Most of them are not harmful to our health, and some are even beneficial to humans. I really do think all kids should be taught about microbes and what better way to learn then by experimenting? Hence, today’s recommendation for a very special gift for kids: A “Grow Your Own Bacteria” set!
Bacteria are so tiny you can’t see them with the naked eye and you may think the only way to show them to kids is by using a microscope. Wrong! You can actually see these micro-organisms once they form colonies. In fact, they can actually produce very pretty colorful shapes once you give them the right conditions.
And the right conditions are what this kit provides you with! You get ten petri dishes, each one already covered with a thin layer of agar. Agar is a jelly-like substance that’s used in laboratories for growing microbes in petri dishes. It contains everything bacteria (and fungi) need in order to thrive, yet while they voraciously consume the nutrients within the agar, the base material remains intact, so you can see your colonies forming nicely above the base layer.
The kit also includes 10 cottons swabs, two plastic droppers, a bottle of hand sanitizer and a guide that walks you through the process of growing bacteria. Frankly, it really isn’t all that difficult. In fact, here’s a really cool experiment you can do with this kit, suggested to me by a friend who’s a microbiologist –
- Take an empty agar plate. Take off the lid and have your kid place an unwashed hand on the plate. Close the lid.
- Have your kid wash her/his hands with soap for at least twenty seconds. Dry them with a paper towel.
- In a second agar dish, repeat the process of placing a hand – this time thoroughly washed – on the plate.
Now, wait for a few days and watch as your bacteria grow. If you expect the second dish to come up empty of bacteria, you may be in for a surprise. It will have its own colonies of bacteria but they will be distinctly different from the ones in the first petri dish. Where did the bacteria in the second dish come from? I’m not telling just yet!
Follow through with the experiment and let me know in the comments section what kind of results you had and what you think happened and I’ll explain more on the difference between the types of bacteria.
There are other experiments to be carried out using this set. You can use the swabs to take samples from all kinds of interesting places (try your phone or keyboard – yikes!) and grow your own bacteria at home.