Name_______________________________________________________  Period _____ Date____________

What is the ideal cell size?


As you have observed, cells are small. Consider your little toe: it is made of about 2-3 billion cells! A newly-made cell will grow, but once it reaches a certain size it will divide to form two new cells rather than growing bigger. Why is this? Why arenít you made of a few dozen, or a few hundred cells, instead of trillions? Why donít single-celled organisms like amoebas and paramecia grow as big as a human? In this lab, we will investigate this question using model cells.


Prelab Questions


1.      What is the basic structure of a cell (think prokaryotic)?






2.      What are some factors that could limit the ability of cells to survive?







3.      Could any of these factors also limit the size of cells? Write your ideas here:








4.      How do cells obtain materials they need and get rid of waste products?








5.      In this lab, we will investigate the ability of three model cells of different sizes to obtain nutrients from their environment. If the cell sizes are 2 cm3, 1 cm3 and .5 cm3, which cell do you think will be more successful?



6.      Explain your reasoning:








Gathering Data


®     Obtain safety goggles (for each group member), a potato stick, a metric ruler, 3 plastic knives, a 50mL beaker, a 250mL beaker and a single glove from the supply table. Decide who in the group will be knife wielder 1, 2 and 3, and who will be the metric master, and put on the safety goggles.


®     From the potato stick, knife wielders measure and cut three cubes with the following dimensions:

o       Knife Wielder 1: †††2 cm x 2 cm x 2cm

o       Knife Wielder 2:††††1 cm x 1cm x 1cm

o       Knife Wielder 3:††††0.5 cm x 0.5 cm x 0.5 cm


®     Metric master will verify accuracy and cubic dimensions, and fill the 250 mL beaker about ĺ full with tap water.


®     When the cubes are perfect, the metric master will obtain iodine solution to cover the cubes. Allow cubes to soak in iodine solution for 15 minutes (Knife Wielder 2 keeps track of time).


7.      What do the cubes represent?


8.      What does the iodine represent?



Cube Data

Cube Size (cm)

Surface area (cm2)

(length x width x number of sides)

Volume (cm3)

(length x width x height)

Surface Area: Volume Ratio (reduced)
























®     After 15 minutes, Knife Wielder 3 obtains three folded squares of paper toweling. Knife Wielder 1 puts on the glove and carefully removes the three cubes from the iodine solution, swirls them in the large beaker of water to rinse off excess iodine, and then places them on the paper toweling squares. Distribute each potato cube to the knife wielder who created it.


®     Metric master will return the beaker of iodine to the collection station at the teacherís desk, and obtain a scalpel.


®     Metric master will slice each potato cube in half and then return the scalpel to the collection station; Knife Wielders measure (in cm) and report how far the iodine penetrated into each cube.


Diffusion of Iodine

Cube Size (cm)

Depth of Diffusion (cm)

Time (min)

Rate of Diffusion (cm/min)
























®     All team members help with the following calculations:


Text Box: x 100 

 Percent Volume of Cube† †=†††††(total cube volume) Ė (volume of cube that has not changed color)

    That Received Iodine††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† (total cube volume)


Extent of Diffusion

Total Volume

of Cube (cm3)

Volume of cube that has not changed color (cm3)

Percent of total volume of cube that received iodine




















®     Wash and dry all utensils, including beakers, and return everything neatly where you found it. Dispose of potato cubes, paper toweling and glove in the trash. Wipe your work surface clean!


®     If you have time, work with your team members on the Discussion Questions.


Discussion Questions


1.      What is a potato (describe it as much as possible)?  


2.      Why did the diffusion of iodine into the potato cube cause the color change from white to black?


3.      If each cube represented a living cell, and the iodine solution was a substance needed within the cell, what problem might the largest cell have?



4.      Examine your data in table 2. What pattern do you notice in the relationship between cube size and the rate of diffusion?



5.      Examine your data in table 1. Describe what happens to the surface area and the volume as the cell grows larger.



6.      Still considering table 1, what happens to the ratio between surface area and volume as the cell grows larger?



7.      According to your data, which cell was most successful at receiving the needed nutrient (iodine solution) in the allowed time?


8.      What can you say about the surface area to volume ratio that will best meet the needs of living cells?



9.      Why is surface area significant in this situation?


10.  Use what you learned in this lab to answer the research question.



11.  Evaluate your initial hypothesis (as stated in the PreLab).


12.  Graph the Percent Volume of Cube Changed by cell size  (0.5, 1 and 2cm), then use your graph to predict the percent Volume of Cube Changed for a hypothetical cube of 0.1 cm, 0.25 cm, 3 cm and 4 cm (discuss your graph and your predictions, why did you make the graph you made and why did you predict what you predicted?).