Based on a lab designed by Dr. Brian Hynek, U. Colorado. Thanks, Brian!
The goals of this astrobiology lab are: (1) for you to learn how to design, carry out, and interpret results from a scientific experiment, (2) to learn about reviving dormant forms of life under various extreme conditions and, (3) to think about the results in the greater context of life elsewhere in the Universe. I don’t think this lab is going to take you very long to do, but it is important that you put some careful thought into it before you begin. I think it should be fun, too!
You will need to acquire brine shrimp eggs. These should be available in most pet stores that carry fish, as they are often used as fish food. You can also order a vial of them from Amazon or other online retailers. You will also need a small amount (1 Tablespoon per liter of water) of non-iodized salt (sea salt, or aquarium salt would also do). You will need at least 2 containers (jars, plastic bottles) in which to conduct your experiments. If your jars/bottles are 1 liter each (and you fill them all the way) you can use 1 tablespoon of non-iodized salt, if they are a different size you’ll need to adjust the salt amount to give you about the same salinity in the end. There are plenty of online resources on how to raise brine shrimp (see links at end of lab).
You can divide up your eggs for however many samples you need for the experiment.
Your packet or vial of “brine shrimp eggs” actually contains dehydrated brine shrimp cysts – these are eggs that are dormant and can remain inactive for a long time. Living brine shrimp can withstand a relatively wide range of conditions, and cysts can survive an even bigger range of temperatures, pressures, salinities, chemicals, and moisture.
The scientific method
You need to follow the scientific method in constructing your lab. The scientific method has some important steps: (1) Identify a question; (2) create a hypothesis; (3) design an experiment to test your hypothesis; (4) predict your result; (5) conduct your experiment; (6) observe your results; (7) draw conclusions about your hypothesis; and (8) re-ask your question, create a new hypothesis, and design and perform a new experiment, as necessary. In a well-constructed experiment, you might have two (or more) groups whose conditions differ only by 1 significant factor, the factor you are examining (see the example in the next paragraph). In this ideal case, you would have a control group in which you apply the “normal” conditions and one or more experimental group(s) in which you apply conditions which differ from the control group by only the factor you are testing.
There are many different kinds of experiments to do with Sea Monkeys to test their hardiness against various extreme conditions. One is the vacuum test example above. However, salinity tests, temperature tests, water chemistry, electricity tests, radiation tests, light vs. dark, high pressure tests, rehydrating Sea Monkeys in liquids that include water but also include other material(s), whether or not Sea Monkeys can be rehydrated with Lake Michigan water, and many others.
What do we turn in?
Lab write-up which details your predictions, setup, and methods. This will consist of a typed, step-by-step description of your scientific experiment: (1) an Introduction saying what question(s) you are trying to answer and why it is important, (2) Methods section describing in detail your experimental setup. This should be a formal lab report – meaning in proper English, grammatically correct, and concise yet thorough. This must include a photograph of your experimental setup. (2 pages)
The Drake Equation Exercise part of the lab (not directly related to the brine shrimp experiments- though it could get you thinking about the likelihood of life elsewhere in the universe)