5 Creative Ways to Teach Fluorescence-Activated Cell Sorting (FACS)

Akanksha Saxena

Studying cells in different fields like pathology, zoology, immunology, plant biology, and virology requires scientists to employ different types of techniques, one of which is FACS, the acronym for Fluorescence-Activated Cell Sorting. Unlike qualitative methods, FACS allows users to get quantitative estimations of their data. It is a type of flow cytometry that sorts different types of cells from a heterogeneous mixture of cells based on a unique fluorescent motif/tag.

Educators often report a certain sense of discomfort when students are first introduced to FACS. For this reason, we have brought to you the 5 highly recommended ways to teach FACS in your next session.

1. Use Interactive Models and Simulations

Educators can demonstrate the underlying principles of the different steps of the FACS technique using interactive models and simulations. Virtual simulations serve as a solution to the lack of accessible FACS apparatus in laboratories, as these devices can be prohibitively expensive and not readily accessible in all locations. Not only do these virtual laboratory simulations ease the process of lecture delivery for educators but they also render students with the opportunity to gain experience in operating Virtual FACS Machine.

With better visualization options, these 3-D simulations aid in easy demonstration of the different systems; fluidics, optics, and electronics, that the technique relies on. 

Preview of FAC 3 simulation.

2. Learning with Games and Activities

Educators can enhance the learning journey for their students by employing gamification techniques. By integrating game-like elements where students can actively participate, educators can create an engaging and immersive learning experience. Gamified learning not only fosters student motivation and active participation but also enables hands-on experience and a deeper understanding of FACS technology, promoting effective knowledge retention and application.

As your students are involved in a sorting activity with Labster with Escherichia coli cells, they can learn how different types of fluorescent tags can be helpful in the sorting process. 

Discover Labster's FACS virtual lab today!

3. Infusing Technology into Study Plans

Technology plays a crucial role in leveraging the benefits of education when teaching students about FAC. You can choose one or more of the underlisted ways to achieve your teaching targets.

  1. There are a variety of Interactive YouTube Videos that can be used to provide a near-realistic lab experience and knowledge about equipment’s functionality and experimental procedures. 
  2. You can choose to use freely available Collaborative Tools from Google to facilitate knowledge-sharing, allowing them to discuss and analyze FACS data collectively. 
  3. You can expose your students to advanced Data Analysis Software and ML Algorithms that can enhance the interpretation and visualization of complex FACS data, enabling students to gain deeper insights and make meaningful scientific discoveries. 

4. Inspiring Learners by Connecting to Career Prospects

Being skilled in the FACS technique is highly desirable in academic and industry environments. Raising students’ awareness of this fact can serve as a motivating factor for them to develop their abilities in performing FACS experiments and effectively analyzing the resulting data. Here are some examples:

  1. Research Scientist: FACS proficiency is highly valued in research laboratories concerning immunology, cancer research, stem cell, and developmental biology research.
  2. Clinical Laboratory Assistants: FACS finds abundant usage in diagnostic purposes, particularly in fields like hematology, immunology, and cell-based diagnostics.
  3. Pharmaceutical Research and Development: FACS proficiency can be beneficial in pharmaceutical companies involved in drug discovery and development. 

5. Connecting the Topic to Real-World Applications

We provide a lead on the discussion of FACS’s role in medical diagnostics, particularly in blood typing. By using FACS, healthcare professionals can accurately determine an ‘individual's blood type’ by analyzing the presence or absence of specific cell surface markers. This information is vital in emergencies, blood transfusions, and organ transplants, ensuring compatibility and minimizing the risk of adverse reactions. Students can easily relate to this example as it highlights the direct impact of FACS on patient care and demonstrates its importance in ensuring safe and successful medical interventions.

Labster's Case Study of sorting a pool of E. coli cells expressing GFP at different levels after they have been engineered can also be helpful for your classroom teaching.   

Preview of FAC 2 simulation.

Final thoughts

Simplifying complex FACS for students is vital to foster comprehension, encourage active learning, and ensure that students can confidently apply this technique in their academic and future professional endeavors.  


  1. Nickerson, R. S., & Zodhiates, P. P. (Eds.). (2013). Technology in education: Looking toward 2020. Routledge.
  2. Tung, J. W., Parks, D. R., Moore, W. A., Herzenberg, L. A., & Herzenberg, L. A. (2004). New approaches to fluorescence compensation and visualization of FACS data. Clinical immunology, 110(3), 277-283.

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