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A Cell in Motion (Zoetrope)

A Cell in Motion (Zoetrope)
This 3-D animation of microscope images shows how cells move.

Turn the crank and watch a moving cell model. Different parts of the cell extend and retract, and the cell’s internal bulk sometimes shifts from one area to another.

How were the models made?

The cell models for this exhibit were 3-D printed from a microscope video of a real cell crawling in the lab. The cell is from a white blood cell cancer.

Why and how do cells move

Most cells in the human body stay put. But some need to move—white blood cells need to find their way to infections, and newly developing brain cells need to migrate to where they belong.

A moving cell crawls by extending a pseudopod, or fake foot, to grab on to its surroundings, then it pulls its rear end forward.

Meet the Scientists

To create this exhibit, the Exploratorium worked with scientists who study how white blood cells crawl through the human body, patrolling for infections.

Using a microscope that captures 3-D images, cell biologist Lillian Fritz-Laylin recorded video of real human cells moving. Then, visualization scientist Megan Riel-Mehan processed the raw data into clearer, more useful images. The 3D-printed cells in this exhibit were based on that movie.

Learn more about the research from cell biologists Lillian Fritz-Laylin from University of Massachusetts, and Dyche Mullins from University of California, San Francisco.

Pictured: Molecular biologist and biochemist Peter Walter of UCSF tests out the prototype of Cells in Motion.