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Lost in the Desert!


David L. Evans
Biology Department
Pennsylvania College of Technology


Students learn about the interconnectedness of the body, with a particular focus on the skin as one of the most important homeostatic organ systems, in this case study in which the protagonist sets out on a three-hour drive across the Arizona desert to meet his fiancee in California, and never shows up. The case was designed to be used with students in a lower-level anatomy and physiology class who are interested in pursuing careers in nursing, occupational therapy, and other health related fields.

  • Elucidate the importance of electrolyte and fluid control in the normal body: hypovolemia, circulation (in an introductory way), brain functions, sweat formation.
  • Accurately describe the skin’s role in thermoregulation.
  • Explain the roles and formation of melanin and vitamin D in the skin.
Keywords: Thermoregulation; thermal regulation; homeostasis; hypovolemia; heat stroke; dehydration; electrolyte; skin; melanin; Vitamin D
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Directed
Language: English
Subject Headings: Physiology   Biology (General)   Nursing  
Date Posted: 06/08/02
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

Teaching Notes

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Answer Key

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I used “Lost in the Desert” in my A&P class of 11th & 12th graders. I was impressed by how they responded to it. I did not adapt the case, but used it as suggested in the teaching notes for a discussion on homeostasis. Anyway, it went well! Thanks!

Health Science
Wilson Central High School
Lebanon, TN

The NASA link was blocked. I had students review the links in advance as research without really knowing what the content of the case was going to be.

We also spent quite a bit of time talking about crashed and elevated glucose levels and how that presents, since some of the symptoms mirrored those of either high or low glucose levels, including diabetic shock.

Deborah Evans
Natural and Physical Sciences
Olivet College
Olivet, Michigan
We recommend in place of the resource no longer available from NASA the following from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety" at

Instructors are encouraged to review all of the website resources listed in a case before they teach the case and to update them, as needed, for their students.

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY

I have recently used this case study to help discuss thermoregulation in a 200 level Human A&P course. The students enjoyed it and were intrigued by the questions. One interesting point brought up in our discussion was the use of IV rehydration for the patient as opposed to the suggested oral rehydration. Based on the case study it seems the paramedic would be capable of providing such a treatment. I think it can add to the discussion and purpose of the case as to what symptoms might necessitate IV rehydration vs. oral rehydration. Thanks for a good tool to use in class.

Derek Kendig
Loyola University Maryland
Baltimore, MD
This is a great activity for students in AP Biology. It is a great introduction to A&P. My only complaint is the first link ( With AP Biology students it wasn't a big deal...they were able to figure it out on their own. But it would be easier and take less time if the links were updated and active.

Brooke Davis
Asheboro High School
Asheboro, NC
This case study gets high compliments from my AP Biology students. One student said, "This case really connects the dots between our studies of thermoregulation, hormones, nerves, and our current study of digestion, and excretion." I modified a few questions and provided hints to improve the quality of group discussions. For example, for the question on urine output I directed students to a figure on ADH in their textbook.

Nicole Benenati
Ithaca High School
Ithaca, NY
Great case study! My students learned a lot.Thanks for such a wonderful resource. I followed some of the comments for replacing the missing NASA website and it turned out better than when I did the case study without the new site last year.

Norma Jean McLaughlin
A and P
Chapin HS
El Paso TX

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