Sunday, June 12, 2016

Biology + Emoji

Electron transport and ATP synthase depicted in emoji by a student.
I teach the Introductory Cell Biology course at Cal Poly.  There were 170 students enrolled this quarter.  With about two weeks left in the course I gave them this extra credit challenge:

"Use standard emoji to illustrate concepts from the class."

Responses were submitted by email (and there was an alternative way for students without phones or computers to participate).  About half the students submitted a response to the challenge.  Grades were based on accuracy and creativity.  Out of 5 possible points most got 3 or 4...I reserved full points for the truly elegant examples.  Here are some of my favorites:

Central Dogma:
Here's an nice take on the good ol' central dogma.  Information from a cookbook (DNA) is copied down (RNA) then used to produce a meal (protein/function).

A nice monohybrid cross...with Mendel at the top making careful observations.

Another monohybrid cross with the alleles shown as a strong arm (dominant) or a thumbs down (recessive).  It's cute but would have been better if the heterozygous F1 was shown.

Translation: "A father can only give X-linked genes to daughters."

In addition to the electron transport chain (shown at the top of this post) students tackled...
hydrolysis reactions:

Photosynthesis and respiration in plants:

This one follows an electron in the light reaction through two rounds of excitation (at photosystem II and photosystem I).  The final fate of the electron is to reduce NADP+..."joining the family" at the end.

Difusion and Osmosis:

A system going toward equilibrium:

And here is osmosis equalizing sugar concentrations across a phospholipid bilayer. 
Cell Division:

Last are some nice takes on mitosis...

And meiosis...this one does a particularly nice job of depicting sister chromatids, homologous chromosomes, and the reduction of chromosome number:

What do you think of this assignment?  What basic cell biology concepts would YOU like to see illustrated with emoji?  Please comment and let me know.


  1. That's really an awesome exercise. It can't help but make the students recall, think about, synthesize and then abstract their new mental models by using symbols.I conducted a similar experiment in my evolution course; the students were asked to summarize the take-home message of an assigned paper, essay, or video within the 140 character limit of a "tweet". I thought it worked well to (as Rick once said) "prime their mental pumps in advance of the session in which the resource would be discussed.

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