Virtual Neuroscience Lab #1: Cocaine Study


Sometime near the end of 2020 - and no later than January 1, 2021 - Flash will no longer be supported by any Internet browser. That means our virtual labs will no longer run in browsers like Chrome, IE, Safari, Firefox, etc. Instead, to use the lab you must download files onto each computer and then run the lab in a stand-alone Flash player. For many school computer labs, this may require permission from your computer lab administrator. Detailed instructions for how to download the files are below.

Robert Stufflebeam: Animations, Artwork, Author, Design,
      Programming, Storyboards
Paul Garris: Author, Storyboards
David Leech Anderson: Storyboards
Kevin Stewart: Animations, Artwork
Allison Steinhauer: Animations, Artwork

Darci J. Harland: Storyboards, Prof Dev & Student Resources
Elisa L. Palmer: Author, Storyboards
Felix Greco: Storyboards
Barbara Meyer: Author, Storyboards
Jahnavi Mithyantha: Storyboards
Stefan Sandberg: Storyboards

Picture of virtual rat MODULE DESCRIPTION: Until recently, it was thought that the neurotransmitter dopamine was associated with the brain's reward system. For instance, when cocaine reaches the brain, there is a significant rise in dopamine levels. Recent experiments have shown that dopamine may play a role in reward seeking behavior as well. This is a virtual neuroscience lab where students perform an experiment studying the relationship between dopamine levels and cocaine seeking behavior in a virtual rat. The student must perform all the duties of a "real" scientist: read the background information, follow the lab procedures, select a rat, prepare a rat for surgery, perform the surgery, conduct the experiment, record observations, then publish the results. How data are collected represents the latest in dopamine measuring technology and cocaine self-administration in a trained rat. This virtual experiment is based on real-world experiments. And if the user does not follow lab procedures, as in the real-world, the virtual rat may die. The lab is a Flash file that will play in any browser that has a recent Adobe Flash plug-in. To download a new plug-in, go to


Introductory Materials

VIDEO TRAILER (For Teachers Only)

A brief video introduction to The Mind Project's Virtual Neuroscience Lab #1: Cocaine Study. These videos were created to familiarize teachers with the experience of the lab. We recommend that students do not see this preview because it has spoilers that will reduce the fun of discovery and it will reveal aspects of the lab that students should have to deduce themselves.

Introduction to Virtual Cocaine Lab (4 Minute YouTube Video)

A 4 minute video giving a brief introduction to instructors about the main goal of this virtual science lab. Not recommended for students (too many spoilers). Longer, more detailed videos for teachers are available below.

Virtual Cocaine Lab


THE VIRTUAL COCAINE LAB - Downloadable Flash Version

Since FLASH is no longer being supported by Internet browsers you must download a stand-alone version of the lab that will run in a separate Flash window. Even after downloading, internet connectivity is still required to view certain webpages that are part of the lab. Those pages will be launched in your native web browser when clicked on within the Flash player.

NOTE: In the original browser version of the lab users had the option to use what we called a "flexible" version of the lab which allowed you to skip to various places in the lab. Unfortunately, that flexible option is not available in the downloadable version.

The Virtual Cocaine Lab (Downloadable Flash Version)

This is an immersive virtual science lab. Regardless of how this lab is to be used with students, it is important that the instructor become proficient in working through the lab so that students can be given some direction if they get stuck.

The link above will take you to a page with all the information you need to determine if the downloadable version is right for you.


For those users who are unable to or choose not to download the offline version of the lab (see "Downloadable Flash Version" above) we have created a video version of the lab.

The Virtual Cocaine Lab (Video Version)

In this video version you will watch a person going through the entire lab, click-by-click. The video is designed with few pauses for time to read the text. That gives you more control. Pause the video each time a new screen appears. Read the text, and pay careful attention to all activities. If you do all of that, you will have a very similar experience to doing the interactive Flash version of the lab.

Material for Teachers & Students


The Cocaine Lab Professional Develoment Manual (PDF)
Author: Darci J. Harland

This pdf provides teachers with a detailed introduction to the lab, pedagogical goals and tips, national science standards, screen captures of the virtual lab itself with additional teaching tips not found on the website. Additionally, there are supplementary handouts that teachers can copy for students to use as they complete the lab, including the answer keys. Student handouts can also be downloaded separately; see below.

This manual was created for face-to-face teacher workshops organized by The Mind Project. We post all resources provided at our workshops here on our website to support teachers even if they have not attended one of our workshops.

Professional Development Video Tutorial: The Virtual Cocaine Lab (21 Minute Video)
Author: Darci J. Harland

The Professional Development for Teachers Video Tutorial provides professional development for teachers who are considering implementing the Virtual Cocaine Lab with their students. The tutorial is equivalent to the introductory training we offer in our face-to-face workshops It contains tips for using the lab with students, objectives aligned with state and national standards, and references to supplimentary mateirals currently available. Spoiler Alert: The video contains concepts in the lab that students should have to deduce themselves. There are separate introductory videos geared to students. NOTE: At the end of the video there is information about online services that the Mind Project website can no longer provide including special teacher and student accounts, online quizzes, and online course customization. We regret that our system no longer accommodates those features. (Length: 21 minutes)

Script of Professional Development Video Tutorial
Author: Darci J. Harland

This is a pdf file containing the script of the Professional Development Video Tutorial for The Virtual Cocaine Lab. If you are not able to view the video, this script is a nice alternative.

Quiz Answer Sheet
Author: Darci J. Harland

After students complete their observations in the experimental area of the Virtual Cocaine Lab, they answer questions using the notes they wrote in their lab notebooks. This file contains the answers to the 14 quiz questions.


The resources below are resources for students who participate in The Virtual Cocaine Lab. Teachers; feel free to distribute these resources to your own students in order to meet their individual needs and to meet your own curricular goals.

Student Video Tutorial: Overview of Virtual Lab (10 Minute Video)
Author: Darci J. Harland

The Overview video tutorial includes navigation tips, as well as brief descriptions of what lab participants will do at each of the lab stations. It includes an introductory explanation of cocaine, neurotransmitters, and motivated behavior so that participants can better focus on the purpose of the lab. We recommend that anyone planning to complete the Virtual Cocaine Lab, watch this video.

Text Script of "Student Video Tutorial" (PDF)
Author: Darci J. Harland

This is a pdf file containing the script for the video tutorial of The Virtual Cocaine Lab. If students are not able to view the tutorial, or you have students with special needs, this script is a nice alternative to watching the video.

Cocaine & Dopamine Video Tutorial (12 Minute Video)
Author: Darci J. Harland

The Cocaine and Dopamine video tutorial covers the essential neurobiology background needed to complete the lab. It is a condensed version of the three books found in the desk area. This tutorial can be used instead of, or in addition to the reading associated with the lab. The content can also be learned by downloading the tutorial script or the pdf of the virtual books.

Cocaine & Dopamine Video Tutorial Script (PDF)
Author: Darci J. Harland

This is a pdf file containing the Cocaine and Dopamine Tutorial script for The Virtual Cocaine Lab. If students are not able to view the tutorial, or you have students with special needs, this script is a nice alternative to watching the video.

Virtual Books: Student Handout (PDF)
Author: Darci J. Harland

This is a pdf file of the Virtual Books that are found in the desk area of The Virtual Cocaine Lab. Feel free to download this paper copy to view, distribute, or print for students to use. Some teachers prefer to assign this reading to students before they enter the virtual lab.

Lab Notebook: Student Handout (PDF)< or (MS WORD DOC)
Author: Darci J. Harland

The lab notebook is for taking notes so you have the important information you need for completing the lab. The notebook has questions to answer which guide you to the information that you need. There are three versions of the Lab Notebook. A webpage version has text boxes that you can write the information in, but it is not possible to save that information. Some teachers will want the students to write down the information in hardcopy or in a digital document that can be saved on the computer. That is why we offer a pdf and a Word doc version of the document. It has 17 questions on 3 pages with questions from the desk area, prep area, surgery area, and the experiment area.

Mathematical Science Conversions: Student Handout (PDF)
Author: Darci J. Harland

This is a pdf file containing the Cocaine and Dopamine Tutorial script for The Virtual Cocaine Lab. If students are not able to view the tutorial, or you have students with special needs, this script is a nice alternative to watching the video.


Funding: This module was supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) / Course, Curriculum, Lab Improvement (CCLI) Award #0127561 and National Institute of Health (NIH) / National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) / Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) #1R25RR020425.