Gel Electrophoresis

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In this activity, learners simulate the process of DNA fingerprinting by using electricity to separate colored dyes. Learners use simple materials to assemble a comb (electrophoresis chamber) to hold the samples, make a 0.2% sodium bicarbonate buffer and 1% gel solution, connect a high voltage power supply, and prepare 5 different samples. Then learners test their model and observe each sample.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
Over $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model, Simulation


Materials List (per group of students)

  • small plastic box approximately 8x12 cm
  • 2 regular popsicle sticks
  • 2 narrow popsicle sticks (coffee stirrer kind)
  • scissors
  • masking tape
  • two 5 in pieces of stainless steel wire
  • 2 electrical leads with alligator clips
  • five 9V batteries
  • water
  • baking soda
  • agar-agar powder or agarose
  • mat knife or razor blade
  • food coloring
  • glycerin
  • needle-tip disposable pipet
  • beaker of water for rinsing tips between samples (optional)


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineering
    • Technology
      • Medical Technology
      • Agriculture and Biotechnology
  • Life Sciences
    • Heredity and Genetics
      • DNA Structure and Function
      • Genetic Engineering
  • Physical Sciences
    • Electricity and Magnetism
      • Electric Charges and Currents
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Impacts of Technology

Informal Categories

  • Crime Science
  • Electronics
  • Model Building


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Yu, Julie


  • All rights reserved, Exploratorium, 2007

Funding Sources:

  • National Science Foundation, 0610238
  • National Science Foundation, 0925383