Materials World Modules

An Inquiry & Design-Based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Program

Biosensors Module

Students investigate the use of biological molecules as materials and use enzymes as chemical sensors in the design of diagnostic tests for peroxide, cholesterol, and glucose.

By incorporating everyday materials into science lessons, the Materials World Modules (MWM) program at Northwestern University has found the solution to getting students excited about learning science while helping teachers meet national and state education standards.

The modules are easy to organize and inexpensive to run. They can be incorporated into any science class because of the breadth of subjects covered in the Activity and Design Project sections. Each module is a supplemental science unit that takes 1-3 weeks of class time (approximately 10 hours) to complete.

MWM will give students an opportunity to understand the world around them in a way they have never experienced before. The modules promote an awareness of the roles science and technology play in society and guide students to take increased control of their work.

Module At-a-Glance

Module At-a-Glance

Activity 1: Investigating Biological Molecules and Bioluminescence
Students experiment with dried firefly samples to see whether or not they produce light and under what conditions they do so. They discover that biological molecules, such as those that produce light in fireflies, can be used as materials outside the organism that produced them.

Activity 2: Investigating Enzymes and Indicator Molecules
By observing the signals produced by peroxidase-catalyzed reactions between peroxide and four different indicator molecules, students gain an understanding of enzymes and indicator molecules, two materials commonly used in biosensors. Students learn that enzymes are biological molecules that act as catalysts and compare how long it takes for a reaction to occur with or without an enzyme catalyst.

Activity 3: Making a Peroxide Biosensor
Students learn about biosensor design by using peroxidase and an indicator molecule to make a peroxide biosensor. They learn about the concepts of dynamic range, detection limit, and biosensor accuracy by testing their biosensor to determine whether or not it can measure different concentrations of peroxide.

Activity 4: Testing a Cholesterol Biosensor
Students use two linked enzymatic reactions and an indicator molecule to make a cholesterol biosensor. They then use their biosensor to try to determine the cholesterol levels in "patient" samples of unknown concentrations.

Activity 5: Evaluating a Home-Use Cholesterol Biosensor
Students consider aspects of biosensor design from the point of view of consumers and product designers. After designing their own cholesterol biosensors on paper, student read and article about a commercial biosensor design team and the cholesterol biosensor they designed for home use. Students learn about the challenges the team faced and evaluate the team's design.

Activity 6: Researching Biosensors
Students research and write a formal report about a biosensor of their choice. The report should include a history of the biosensor's development and an explanation of how it works and how it is used. From their research, students should gain an understanding of the ways in which science, technology, and society are linked.

Design Project: Designing a Glucose Biosensor
Students use what they have learned about enzymes, indicator molecules, and biosensors to design, test, and evaluate a glucose biosensor.

Connecting to Your Curriculum

Connecting to Your Curriculum

Materials World Modules are simple to organize and inexpensive to run. They are designed to be easily incorporated into any middle school science or high school science lab or lecture course. The chart below lists the subjects covered in the Activities and Design Projects sections of this module.

Physics & Physical Science

  • Light
  • Color
  • Luminescent Indicators
  • Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Colorimetric Indicators
  • Atomic Structure and Energy States


  • Cholesterol in the Diet
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Lowering Cholesterol Levels
  • Health-care Technology

Language Arts

  • Writing a report
  • Public speaking


  • Chemiluminescence
  • Enzymes
  • Catalysts
  • Chemical Reactions
  • Reaction rates
  • Proteins
  • Oxidation-reduction Reactions
  • Paper Chromatography
  • Making Sequential Dilutions
  • Solubility and Concentrations
  • Lipids

Career Education

  • Careers in Health Care

Biology and Life Science

  • Bioluminescence
  • Biological Molecules
  • Enzymes
  • Linked Enzymatic Reactions
  • Proteins
  • Sensing Light and Color
  • Cholesterol
  • Atherosclerosis


  • Calculating Ratios
  • Slope-intercept Formula
  • Interpreting Graphs
  • Calculating Concentrations

Math Teaser

Folk Remedies

In South America, some people treat the bite of a highly poisonous reptile – the fer-de-lance – by applying a potion of an extract of a beautiful native plant, Latin name Aristolochia Odoratissima.


Is it effective?




Standards Alignment

AAAS Benchmark Standards


NSES Standards


Grades 9-12 Designs Grades 9-12 Designs
1. The Nature of Science


A. Science as Inquiry


Scientific inquiry

Ability to do scientific inquiry

The Scientific enterprise

Understanding scientific inquiry

2. The Nature of Mathematics


B. Physical Science


Mathematics, science, and technology

Structure and properties of matter

Mathematical inquiry

Chemical reactions

3. The Nature of Technolog


Interactions of energy and matter

Technology and science

C. Life Sciences


Design and systems

The cell

4. The Physical Setting


D. Earth and Space Science


Structure of matter

Ability of technological design

Energy transformations

Understanding science and technology

5. The Living Environment


F. Science in Personal and Social Perspective



Personal and community health

8. The Designed World


Historical perspectives

Materials and manufacturing



12. Habits of Mind




Computation and estimation



Communication skills



Video Clips

Video Clips

Sharon McCoy talks about the Biosensors Module

View Youtube video

Biosensors Module Intro

@ Materials World Modules