Cellular Soap Opera

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In this activity, learners create a large film of soap and experiment with what can and cannot pass through it. Through the activity, learners will relate the properties of soap films to the properties of a cell (plasma) membranes. This activity also provides learning connections to COVID-19. Includes step-by-step instructions, an in-depth explanation of semipermeable membranes and how a cell's membrane functions, background information, suggested extensions, and teaching tips. Safety note: adult supervision needed-use of a sharp knife is required.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Dish soap (Dawn™ brand recommended)
  • Water
  • Glycerin
  • Cotton string
  • Two drinking straws
  • Scissors
  • Aluminum roasting pan or similar container that is wider than the straws
  • Two film cans or a 2–4 inch (5–10 cm) section of PVC pipe (see Assembly section)
  • Sharp knife or single edge razor blade
  • Sheet of black construction paper or other black material
  • Pen or other thin object
  • Optional: PVC cutters or hacksaw


  • Life Sciences
    • Cells
      • Cell Structure and Function
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry

Informal Categories

  • Science Festivals Activity


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access