The Perfect Menace – PBL & STEM

I created this AWESOME (if I do say so myself) wrap up for my Infectious Diseases module this semester. I wanted to use a PBL activity to tie it all in and I wanted to have a heavy STEM focus for this particular class of 11th/12th graders. We have been studying infectious diseases and the immune system for the entire semester so this project needed to be one that tied in all of these components in an authentic (there’s that word again) way.

Here is what I came up with…

Bio II: PBL  The Perfect Menace

Design the PERFECT virus!! The “perfect” virus will be one that is able to replicate rather quickly with little interference from the Immune System. Your virus should be one that has modifications to help it evade antiviral medicines so that it can survive and thrive in the host. Use your knowledge of antivirals and the physical characteristics of virus and create a virus that will be successful at this avoidance.

Design Phase: 

  • Attachment
  • Entry
  • Replication
  • Exit

What modifications will you make to your virus to make it the Perfect Menace. Antiviral drugs inhibit one of the 4 above strategies for viral destruction of cells. Your job is to design a virus that evades the antiviral drugs and continues causing destruction.

Think about viruses like: Ebola, HIV, Small Pox, Measles, or Influenza – What makes them so deadly? Why don’t drugs work on them very effectively?

Research: Figure out how your virus will be designed based on research of known viruses and their virulence.

Will it have:

Capsule: Naked vs. Enveloped?

Shape: icosahedral vs. rod-like vs. spherical

Genome: RNA vs. DNA

Key Concept:

  • Proteins have specific shapes.
  • Repeating units of the same protein (or a set of proteins) can create a closed symmetric 
shape. Viruses are composed mainly of some genetic material (RNA/DNA) enclosed in a 
protein shell (which is often highly symmetric).
  • Viruses have limited space in their genome, so they use symmetry and multiple copies of 
one or a few types of subunits to create large shells.
  • Viruses inject their genetic material into host cells and hijack their cellular machinery for 
their own propagation.
  • Viral infection can be prevented by blocking the entry of its genetic material into host 

Prototype Phase:

We will be using the MakerSpace in the library to create a prototype of your virus. You will be permitted to use the following:

Pipe Cleaners
Marshmallows and toothpicks
Any other materials you think would be valuable to make a 3-D model of your virus

Computer Generated:

From your prototype, you will then use either Sketch-Up or TinkerCad to create a compter generated 3D model of your Virus

3D Printer:

You will then use our amazing 3D printer to create an actual space-filling model of your Perfect Menace


Finally, you will present your virus to me and a panel of faculty/Staff and explain what makes your virus “perfect”

Additional Materials:

For background, concepts and additional reading:
RCSB PDB website (
Molecule of the Month feature on “Poliovirus and Rhinovirus” and “Bacteriophage phiX174” (handout)
Molecular machinery poster (this can be accessed from

I am aware that not all schools have access to a 3D printer and while I think this is the coolest part of this PBL, the same end result can be achieved by using a 3D software program (like Sketch-Up) so they can still see their designs in a 3-dimensional format.

Here is a photo of some of the finished products. This was the first time that a lot of these kids have used a 3D printer so they were blown away by it. Also, learning the computer program was challenging and frustrating for them, but also very influential.

3D products of student conceptual ideas of what a "perfect menace" would look like
3D products of student conceptual ideas of what a “perfect menace” would look like

If you use this lesson plan/PBL, let me know what you think and how your students liked it.

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