In research labs, human lung cells grown in tissue culture are commonly used to study the effects of e-cigarette vapor on living cells, but that’s not possible in a classroom. In this lab, students instead look at the protozoan Tetrahymena, a model organism often used in research on health and disease related topics, including ciliary function. This safe, easily grown single-celled protist doesn’t look much like a human. Nonetheless, Tetrahymena’s basic cell processes are very much like those of human cells, and fundamental discoveries in Tetrahymena have had a substantial impact on modern molecular and cellular biology. Substances that impact Tetrahymena basic cell functions may also interfere with similar human cell function. For example, substances that affect the function of Tetrahymena cilia that propel the cells through water and sweep food into the mouth can also affect human cilia, like those that help move harmful inhaled material out of the lungs.

The vaping lab activity introduces students to what is currently known about the possible harmful effects of vaping, including the various substances commonly found in vape juice and the potential dangers of second-hand vapor, and addresses what questions still need to be answered. The lab allows students to experimentally explore for themselves the effects of e-cigarette vapor on Tetrahymena viability, motility, and behavior, and to consider possible related effects on human cells.

The vaping module provides small quantities of e-cigarette vapor condensate prepared by condensing e-cigarette vapor into a water-based, isotonic medium; unsmoked vape juice,;and water that has been vaporized and re-condensed in a clean e-cigarette. Students compare untreated cells to cells treated with e-cigarette vapor, unsmoked vape juice, and re-condensed water, noting the effects on cell viability, motility, and overall shape over time.

The video below shows how the vapor is extracted.
Module Protocols

Middle School, High School

Relevant Concepts

Motility; Environmental Impact on Growth and Survival; Cell Response to Environmental Stimuli; Science as a Process.

Next Generation Science Standards Relationships

High School:

HS-LS1-1 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.

Middle School:

MS-LS1-1 Conduct an investigation to provide evidence that living things are made of cells, either one cell or many different number and types of cells.


Scott A, Lugg ST, Aldridge K, Lewis KE, Bowden A, Mahida RY, Grudzinska FS, Dosanjh D, Parekh D, Foronjy R, et al. 2018. Pro-inflammatory effects of e-cigarette vapour condensate on human alveolar macrophages. Thorax 73(12):1161-9.

Garcia-Arcos I, Geraghty P, Baumlin N, Campos M, Dabo AJ, Jundi B, Cummins N, Eden E, Grosche A, Salathe M, et al. 2016. Chronic electronic cigarette exposure in mice induces features of COPD in a nicotine-dependent manner. Thorax 71(12):1119-29.

See our glossary for the terms used in the modules.