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Cell Biol Educ. 2005 Fall;4(3):235-48.

How effective are simulated molecular-level experiments for teaching diffusion and osmosis?

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  • 1Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Diffusion and osmosis are central concepts in biology, both at the cellular and organ levels. They are presented several times throughout most introductory biology textbooks (e.g., Freeman, 2002), yet both processes are often difficult for students to understand (Odom, 1995; Zuckerman, 1994; Sanger et al., 2001; and results herein). Students have deep-rooted misconceptions about how diffusion and osmosis work, especially at the molecular level. We hypothesized that this might be in part due to the inability to see and explore these processes at the molecular level. In order to investigate this, we developed new software, OsmoBeaker, which allows students to perform inquiry-based experiments at the molecular level. Here we show that these simulated laboratories do indeed teach diffusion and osmosis and help overcome some, but not all, student misconceptions.

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