Caught Red-Handed


Caught Red-Handed  



Bacteria are everywhere. They have evolved the ability to inhabit almost every surface on the planet; however, they are invisible to the naked eye due to their small size. Bacteria have been found living in the deepest part of the ocean, in volcanic vents, in boiling hot springs, and even deep in polar ice caps. Many species of bacteria live inside of other organisms in a harmless commensalistic way such as the intestinal bacteria, Escherichia coli. Bacteria can reproduce at very rapid rates whenever conditions are favorable, as often as every 20 minutes doubling in number. The bacterial population is kept in check by the natural defenses of the host, such as the immune system and proper washing habits. When these natural defenses fail, bacteria can quickly become a problem. Some bacteria produce poisons or toxins that can be life-threatening if the bacterial population isn’t controlled by our natural defenses.

The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that the best way to prevent bacterial spread and infection is through the use of proper sanitary techniques. Perhaps the most critical step in this prevention is the use of proper hand washing. When improperly washed, your hands are one of the most easily colonized areas of your body and many of our behaviors involve the use of our hands.  Proper hand washing requires the use of water as hot as you can stand, soap, and lots of rubbing. The soap and water serve to destroy bacteria, and the rubbing helps slough off dead skin cells along with lots of bacteria.


Students will examine:

  1. The spread of bacteria through surface contact
  2. Surface washing techniques to reduce the spread of bacteria

Materials (Part A):

Black light, Glo-Germ powder, lotion or Glo-Germ oil, hand soap, water, paper towels, pencil, lab sheet

Procedure (Part A):

  1. Choose one student in the lab group and have them spread a SMALL AMOUNT of Glo-Germ powder or lotion evenly over the entire surface of their hands. Be sure to include hard to clean areas such as around & under the fingernail.
  2. Have another student use the Black light to check your hands for the fluorescent “germs”.
  3. Estimate the percentage of your hand that you have covered with Glo-Germ powder and record this percentage in your data table 1 under time “0”.
  4. Wash your hands for 10 seconds and then recheck your hands with Black light and record the percentage of “germs” remaining.
  5. Repeat step 5 for washing times of 30 seconds, 60 seconds, and 120 seconds.
  6. Return Glo-Germ powder, lotion, or oil to lab cart. 

Data Table 1


Time of Wash in SecondsPercent of Hand Covered with “germs”
0 (initial observation)


Materials (Part B):

Tennis ball, “play” money, stuffed toy, pencil, lab sheet

Procedure (Part B):

  1. Choose a different member of your lab group and use the Black light to check their hands for the presence of germs.  IF they are “infected”, have them thoroughly wash their hands to remove the “germs”.
  2. Record the percentage of their hand that is covered with “germs”.
  3. Pick up the basket from the lab cart with your materials for part B.
  4. Handle the tennis ball for at least 20 to 30 seconds.
  5. After handling the tennis ball, have your hands rechecked with the Black light for “germs”.
  6. Record this percentage in data table 2.
  7. Return to your lab table and handle each of the other items ONE AT A TIME, checking for “germs after EACH item and recording this percentage in table 2.
  8. Return the black light and basket with handled items to the lab cart.

Data Table 2


Name of ItemPercent Coverage
Initial Hand Coverage
Tennis Ball
“Play” money



  1. If almost every surface we touch is inhabited by bacteria, why don’t bacterial infections occur more often?
  2. Name 3 ways you  might prevent the spread of bacteria each day.
  3. Name several bacterial diseases.
  4. Name and describe the 3 shapes of bacteria.
  5. Are all bacteria harmful? Explain your answer.
  6. What effect, if any, did increased washing time have on the percentage of “germ” coverage on your hands?
  7. Name 3 areas of your home that are most susceptible to bacterial contamination. Explain steps you could take in each of these areas to prevent the spread of bacteria to other places in your home.


Create a graph based on the data from table 1.

Title _____________________________