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Teaching Guide
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Exploring Vessel Physics
Mirrored Movements
A Healthy Diet
Image of surgeons
Unlike historical surgical techniques, endoscopic surgery exploits smaller tools that are manipulated from outside the patient. Since the surgeon's hands aren't inside the patient, you don't need a large opening into the body. A small tube that is "snaked" into place delivers the tiny surgical tools to the site of the surgery. But this type of surgery provides some real challenges in orientation. Much like sailors using a tiller to steer a sailboat, a surgeon must learn how to manipulate these devices within the body cavity "backwards," and therefore in an unfamiliar way. As you saw in the segment "Robot Heart Surgeon" , some recent improvements in this technology now offer surgeons the richness of three-dimensional views, along with images that help maintain the right/left orientation of the subject.

note to educators

This activity page will offer:

  • A lab experience during which students construct a basic electric circuit and use it to explore dexterity skills
  • A chance to construct and operate a tool that extends a person's grasping ability and to model endoscopic surgery
  • An opportunity to design and create an improved remote tool


  • Bell or light circuit (light, wire, cell (a.k.a. battery), and cell holder)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Inexpensive metal tweezers
  • modeling clay
  • scissors
  • heavy stock paper
  • brass fasteners
  • hole punch
  • tape
  • bell wire (insulation removed from ends)
  • packing cardboard

Part 1- Constructing The Challenge


  1. Work with a partner. Assemble a circuit using copper insulated wire, a lamp or bell, battery holder and appropriate cell. Test the circuit to make sure that all components are functional. Once this basic circuit has been tested, it's ready to be used in creating an "operation" game.
  2. Soften a small lump of clay. Use your fingers to shape a well that is slightly larger than a metal paper clip. This depression should be about 1 centimeter deep and be just large enough to accept a paperclip.
  3. Line the walls of this depression with a strip of aluminum foil. The floor of the depression should remain free of any foil.
  4. Disassemble one of the circuit wires. Attach this exposed lead to the aluminum foil. Use the other wire to connect the open part of the circuit to metal tweezers as shown in the diagram below.
  5. Test your circuit by touching the tweezers to the foil. The light/bell should operate.
  6. Position the clip in the center of the depression. Make sure that it does not touch any foil.
  7. Challenge your partner to remove the paper clip without touching the sides of the cavity. Once each of you has perfected the technique, move on to the endoscopic challenge.

image of circuit

PART 2 - Building A Remote Manipulator

  1. Work with a partner. Cut out four strips of heavy stock paper. Each strip should be about 15 centimeters long and 2 centimeters wide.
  2. Use a hole punch to place two holes in each strip. One hole should be positioned in the center of the strip. The other hole should be positioned about 2 cm from the edge as shown here in the diagram.
    cardboard strips
  3. Assemble the expandable arm as shown here. Use brass fasteners to secure the joints at which movement occurs. expandable arm
  4. Straighten two paper clips. Attach one clip to each of the two ends of the manipulator. Use tape to secure the clips. Open and close the arm. Place a small bend in each clip so the tips of these metal extensions meet when the arm is extended.

  5. Detach the tweezers from the bell circuit. Attach this free wire to either of the two paper clips. Test the bell circuit by touching the "hot clip" to the aluminum foil wall. If the bell does not sound, recheck the connections.

PART 3- The Challenges Of Endoscopic Surgery

  1. Cut a 7-centimeter diameter hole in the center of a sheet of packing cardboard.
  2. Insert this sheet into a lump of clay and position it upright in front of the operating stage as shown below.
  3. Challenge the "surgeon" to remove the clip without sounding the bell. Although the tool must be manipulated through the hole, the surgeon is allowed any view to observe the action of the tool, such as over the top or around the sides of the screen.
  4. Once you have finished your endoscopic challenge, exchange roles with your partner so that you each have the opportunity to experience this model of remote surgery. remote surgery model

Analyze Your Model

Compare and contrast this classroom experience with endoscopic surgery. How is it similar? How is it different? How might you better model the surgeons limited view of the operation? Can you design a more realistic surgery using other materials?

Build A Better Manipulator

Can you improve the design of this manipulator? If so, how? What changes would increase the dexterity of the grabber? Make a sketch of your improved device. With you instructor's approval build your endoscopic tool. Test your tool against devices created by classmates.

Web Connection

Medical Robotics
See various manipulator tools that perform endoscopic surgery.

Yale University School of Medicine Heart Book
An incredibly rich and extensive site from Yale University on all aspects of the heart and heart disease. of risk factors associated with heart disease.


The activities in this guide were contributed by Michael DiSpezio, a Massachusetts-based science writer and author of "Critical Thinking Puzzles" and "Awesome Experiments in Light & Sound" (Sterling Publishing Co., NY).

Academic Advisors for this guide
Corrine Lowen, Science Department, Wayland Public Schools, Wayland, MA
Suzanne Panico, Science Department, Fenway High School, Boston, MA

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