Powers of Minus Ten simulates electron microscope

Spoiler alert! The headline is admittedly dull, but POMT really is nothing more than a guided tour of skin cells with a simulated electron microscope. That doesn’t mean the app itself is boring so much as it means that students will get a lot closer to subcutaneous molecules than they will in a high school classroom.


Somewhere along the line the myth developed that as soon as you put education in a computer, students would become interested, engaged and absorbed. This myth was based on the flawed assumption that computers could take boring material written by boring teachers, and students would stick with learning like they stick with Angry Birds.

All those brilliant thinkers overlooked a couple of things. First, of course computer marketing was going to make computers sound sexy to schools. Schools had more disposable income than families (at least when people believed government, and not magical thinking, should fund education). Second, people believed education could be converted to a game.

Third, people didn’t expect George Bush to reduce education for everyone who couldn’t afford private schools (and who wasn’t ignorant enough to believe they were better teachers than real teachers) to standardized tests which were essentially immune to creative thinking and interactive game play.

Most important, however, people overlooked the fact that not all computer games engage children equally. They forgot that for every Klondike and Canfield there were hundreds of solitaire games that were so boring you only played them when you were bored with the good solitaire games. It stood to reason, therefore, that for every truly engaging educational app there would be hundreds as bad as the teachers who couldn’t keep students engaged.

Or that once they had computers students would choose solitaire over education apps as soon as the teachers’ backs were turned. To expect educational apps to entertain, engage and actually educate may be more ridiculous than to expect Jesus to return tomorrow in his red suit and white bears with presents and candy for Republicans before he whisks them away to the great Tea Party party in the sky. Or to expect that those of us left behind will somehow feel punished to finally be rid of them.

As a consequence, I’m happy if an app actually educates and engages students willing to invest a little extra time in the material. Powers of Minus Ten won’t have students playing through the night like they would with Grand Theft Auto, but it should do a good enough job to help them understand the basics of cellular biology and pass their exams.

It will also give them the experience of looking through an electron microscope, which is kind of cool. Since I never got to look through an electron microscope,1 in high school, and our college biology classes didn’t give us access to an electron microscope either, I wouldn’t have a clue whether the simulation lives up to the experience.

But the bits and pieces do look like the bits and pieces in science shows. How real should real be? As a philosophy students I do feel qualified to answer this question. In this case, real enough.

While Powers of Minus Ten isn’t truly interactive, it’s interface is pretty cool. Learners start with a view of the hand and from there can zoom into the skin, the cell, cytoplasm and chromosome. At each level they can tap on different objects for information and collect different elements f0r exploration in the lab.

Powers of Minus Ten allows learners to zoom into the cells, cytoplasm and chromosomes of human skin. They can hunt down important components of the skin and save them to look at more closely in the lab.

As students identify the different components of cells and chromosomes, Powers of Minus Ten opens a popup window with more information about each component as they find it. Should they need to review, they merely tap on the item again.

Although the microscope claims to zoom in to ten different levels, only three are really informative. Adjusting the zoom further merely makes elements look larger but you can’t really interact past the basic three (which is only to be expected from a free app).

The lab itself lets you examine elements that you find as you explore with the microscope. You can poke each object, rotate it in simulated 3D, and catalogue it. You also earn credit for each item you track down and learn about. Powers of Minus Ten can even be viewed with multiple learners, although they don’t actually get to take turns. They merely compare scores after each has finished exploring.

The lab window allows learners to explore the elements of skin cells and even rotate them in 3D.

The lab also asks students to explore how different cell components interact with each other and pass information back up the chain.

One of the biggest problems with Powers of Minus Ten is that it doesn’t run in the background. If you have to leave the app for any reason, you will return to the launch window when you resume the app. Sadly, it takes forever to load the main app window again, even when returning from the lab to collect more protoplasm.

I’ve seen a lot of educational games/apps that promise to engage students, but really only do so in the minds of teachers and developers who forgot how boring school could be after six periods of constant bombardment with information that was all supposed to be critical to their welfare and maturity (when they really just want to text and hang out).

Powers of Minus Ten does actually does live up to that promise. It doesn’t overload them with boatloads of information, but does highlight thirty or so key cellular components and interactions succinctly enough that they can get a feel for the processes of skin cells.

At $2 it’s reasonably priced, and there’s a good chance that in that last minute panic to cram for exams, this app might actually give students information in a format they can remember. At least until they finish the test.

Jenny Manytoes rates Powers of Minus Ten

Jenny Manytoes would purr next to Powers of Minus Ten. It’s inexpensive, succinct and could actually engage students in a way those thick biology books never would. I certainly learned more from Powers of Minus Ten while writing this review than I learned from my high school biology teacher in an entire year. But he was counting down the days to retirement and was even more distracted by the hot girls in class than the boys were.

Which is pretty creepy now that I think about it. I sat next to Kim Butler who was one of those girls. He spent a lot of time at our lab table, but I don’t think he ever noticed me. That, however, is an anecdote for high school reunions.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat

  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.


1Our high school didn’t have the best equipped labs, and since we were in a college town, they figured we would see them at the university labs or be frying chicken for a living and not need the experience.back


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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 4 Stars - Purr, Education, Virtual simulation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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