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Curricular Unit: Engineering and the Human Body

Quick Look

Grade Level: 5 (3-5)

Choose From: 10 lessons and 14 activities

Subject Areas: Biology

A photograph of a human hand that has been superimposed with mechanical fingers. The hand, which shows jointed finger, holds a light bulb.
A human hand superimposed with mechanical fingers
Copyright © Oak Ridge National Laboratory http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/v40_2_07/article14.shtml


This unit covers the broad spectrum of topics that make-up our very amazing human body. Students are introduced to the space environment and learn the major differences between the environment on Earth and that of outer space. The engineering challenges that arise because of these discrepancies are also discussed. Then, students dive into the different components that make up the human body: muscles, bones and joints, the digestive and circulatory systems, the nervous and endocrine systems, the urinary system, the respiratory system, and finally the immune system. Students learn about the different types of muscles in the human body and the effects of microgravity on muscles. Also, they learn about the skeleton, the number of and types of bones in the body, and how outer space affects astronauts' bones. In the lessons on the digestive, circulatory, nervous and endocrine systems, students learn how these vital system work and the challenges faced by astronauts whose systems are impacted by spaceflight. And lastly, advances in engineering technology are discussed through the lessons on the urinary, respiratory and immune systems while students learn how these systems work with all the other body components to help keep the human body healthy.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers, particularly biomedical engineers, need to understand how our body systems work in order to help take care of our bodies on Earth and in space. The human body has many examples of joints, which engineers can mimic when designing machines. Specifically, in thinking about our skeleton while not on Earth, biomedical engineers who work at NASA are especially interested in how outer space affects astronauts' bones. And, aerospace engineers need to understand the immune system and how it is affected in space in order to prepare for longer missions (while astronauts are further away from the medical resources on Earth).

Furthermore, engineers continue to help protect the human heart by developing technological devices to repair it, such as artificial heart valves to replace faulty valves. Artificial hearts were developed by engineers to keep hospitalized patients alive while they are waiting for a heart transplant. What about our brains? Engineers develop better ways to save the brain from trauma and disease. They develop surgical and imaging equipment, as well as brain-saving devices, such as bicycle and motorcycle helmets. And for the visually impaired, engineers create sight devices from glasses to advanced sight tools (including a light sensor imbedded into the back of the eye) for people who cannot see at all or have difficulty seeing. Biomedical engineers create devices to aid people who have lost or are lacking full hearing capabilities. Engineers are also working on a drug that can keep astronauts from getting space-motion sickness, which is caused by conflicting sensory inputs.

Other life-saving measures are undertaken by chemical engineers, who study the immune system in order to develop treatments for people with compromised immunity, and vaccinations, antibiotics, disinfectants, and sterilizers are designed by engineers in order to help keep people healthy. Additionally, environmental engineers work on keeping the air we breathe and the water we drink free of toxins via air purifiers and water filters.

Clearly, engineers play a huge part in keeping the human body safe and healthy, both on Earth and in space.

(optional: Show students the What Is Engineering? video)

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

See individual lessons and activities for standards alignment.

More Curriculum Like This

Muscles, Muscles Everywhere

Students learn about the three different types of muscles and how outer space affects astronauts' muscles. Through the design of their own microgravity exercise machine, students learn about the exercise machines that engineers design specifically for astronaut use.

preview of 'Muscles, Muscles Everywhere' Activity
Elementary Activity
Walk, Run, Jump!

In this activity, students participate in a series of timed relay races using their skeletal muscles. They compare the movement of skeletal muscle and relate how engineers help astronauts exercise skeletal muscles in space.

preview of 'Walk, Run, Jump!' Activity
Elementary Activity
Fascinating Friction!

Students use wood, wax paper and oil to investigate the importance of lubrication between materials and to understand the concept of friction. Using wax paper and oil placed between pieces of wood, the function of lubricants between materials is illustrated

preview of 'Fascinating Friction!' Activity
Elementary Activity
Saving a Life: Heart Valve Replacement

Students use their knowledge about how healthy heart valves function to design, construct and implant prototype replacement mitral valves for hypothetical patients' hearts. Building on what they learned in the associated lesson about artificial heart valves, combined with the testing and scoring of ...

Unit Schedule

TThe following schedule provides a suggested order of the lessons and activities. However, you may choose to only teach some of the activities – as your time and priorities permit.


© 2009 by Regents of the University of Colorado

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder


The contents of these digital library curricula were developed under grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education, and the National Science Foundation (GK-12 grant no. 0338326). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the U.S. Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: April 10, 2020

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