Learn about virtual biology labs, simulations, and experiments related to high school and college biology! We’ll review and compare the virtual biology labs options online.
We define here simulation as meaning of sort of lab activity or experiment in which the student hands are physically not the hands that are collecting the data. That is, there is typically data provided to the students in the form of a video, documents, or files.
The idea with the simulation is that it represents all of the important aspects of laboratory activities. Simulations in include a safety analysis, experimental design, data collection, data analysis, discussion of results, and drawing conclusions, just like any normal analysis following the scientific method. The only difference is that somebody else’s hands physically collected the data and make them available to the student.
Simulations and virtual biology labs have become popular in recent years, perhaps due to the closing of many laboratories during the COVID pandemic. Many teachers found them to be valuable learning tools, and they also open up learning opportunities to students who don’t have a physical lab available.
Importantly, authorities in the fields of education, science, and government have generally decreed that simulations are legitimate and official forms of science education. That is, simulations are allowed, and are becoming common, for high school and college students to get credit for lab science classes, without stepping foot in a physical laboratory.
There are quite a few virtual biology labs on the Internet these days, and we list just a few popular ones here. They include tons of free resources for students, teachers, and homeschoolers to learn and make lesson plans.
Whether conducting a virtual lab simulation for biology, a labster simulation, a virtual lab for physics, a virtual chemistry lab, or a chemistry lab simulator, you’ll want to understand how to make a proper biology lab report to go along with each virtual activity.
One of our favorite for the virtual bio labs is called Virtual Biology Lab. It’s a free, online educational resource provided for educational purposes. It simulates natural environments and life. It includes technical instruction, adjustable parameters, stochastic effects, and observable outcomes. There are a variety of numerical and graphical results.
One example is a cell biology membrane simulation, showing the structure of a cell membrane.
The MERLOT virtual labs for biology are organized into PhET Lab experiments.
They are research-based simulations of real lab situations. They have an intuitive, gamelike environment that makes it fun to learn biology in a virtual environment.
The University of Colorado Boulder also has an interactive simulation for the cell biology topic of cell membrane channels and transport.
Online Labs in, which is the name of our third free virtual bio lab, has a wide variety of simulations. Topics include general biology, virtual labs, microscopy, cells, microbiology, genetics, DNA, health, medical treatment, blood types, population biology, population dynamics, animal behavior, evolution, and life sciences. They have a wide variety of links to many reputable organizations with virtual labs and simulations for biology.
We’d like to make a distinction here between simulating how a biology lab works, versus having a virtual or simulated set up for some specific experiment. Note that for online high school biology lab science credit, you’re generally going to need to do a lab component that simulates a real high school biology lab. Just playing around with a bunch of virtual biology experiments, in an open-ended format, is definitely not what a biology lab is about, and you certainly can’t claim high school credit for that type of work.
Let’s explain what happens in any real biology lab. There’s always 3 basic steps, and it’s never about the actual experiment that being performed. In any professional biology laboratory, we follow the steps, and in high school biology, you’re given credit for following these steps. That’s just how biologists decided that it should work over about 100 years ago, and we shouldn’t go changing that just because we now have the best virtual biology labs available on the internet. Rather, the below 3 steps are the scientific method in action, and they are followed by biologists everywhere.
The 3 basic steps of any biology lab are:
1. Following an established scientific procedure.
2. Writing down the results from that scientific procedure.
3. Signing your name on what you wrote down, and getting approval from your lab instructor or lab manager to move on to the next procedure. At which point, you would repeat steps 1-3.
If you’re planning to pass a college level biology class, you’re going to need to know how to follow the above 3 steps. It’s not as simple as it sounds, and you definitely are not going to learn it just by playing around with virtual experiments in an open-ended format. You need the experience of a proper biology lab simulation, which teaches you to follow scientific procedures, and the scientific method, if you’re going to be prepared for college.
The below sections explain how virtual biology labs can be used as part of an overall biology lab simulation. The idea is to get high school credit for online biology classes, while preparing for college level lab science courses.
Our first virtual biology lab begins by posing a question to the learner: Explain the working of compound microscope, with attention to the focal length of the convex lens.
We ask learners to explain the working of a compound microscope, focal length, and convex lenses in the first cell biology lab activity. Learners are expected to understand how a pair of lenses can magnify a virtual image in an apparatus today known as a compound microscope.
It’s not just an exercise in simple physics and optics. It’s very typical, in fact you might say mandatory, that any lab, whether it’s a virtual lab, a simulation, or an actual physical lab, will start with some sort of training on the scientific instruments that will be used. The big idea here is safety. Conducting science safely means that we understand the equipment that we’re using, before we use it, to avoid problems that can lead to unexpected safety issues. So, in the case of our cell biology lab experiments, the cell biology lab manual starts with an introduction as to how compound microscopes work.
Virtual lab simulations for biology include 16 cell biology lab experiments and a cell biology lab manual with answer key in pdf format. Our biology lab manual pdf walks you through the process of conducting cell biology labs like a professional scientist.
Our virtual biology labs include microscope drawings of cells, extracting DNA from strawberries, analyzing simulated population dynamics, analyzing genetic inheritance, extracting and testing starch from vegetables, applying chromatography techniques, and more.
We will teach you how to keep a proper biology lab notebook, which is generally what you’re getting a graded on. One big misunderstanding that a lot of students have is that they think they are being graded on lab technique. That’s just fundamentally wrong. In a real science lab, you’re being graded on your ability to document what happened. It’s not so much about doing the experiment well, or even doing it at all, in the age of simulated data. Students simply don’t get credit for “doing” experiments, they get credit for documenting the experiment.
Unlike those other virtual biology labs on the Internet, we’re going to show you how to act like a professional scientist. Or at least how to get a good grade in your cell biology lab course. The most important thing in cell biology lab is that you learn how to write things down properly, and that’s exactly what our virtual biology labs are going to teach you.
Click below to learn more about our free, self-paced, and live (on Zoom) versions of Cell Biology with Virtual Labs included.
Dr K is our lab simulation instructor and biology teacher. She’s developed high school biology lab simulations that prepare students for college, medical school, veterinary school, dental school, nursing school, and other health sciences careers, with a relaxed and practical approach.