The BioBus rolled into Westlake!
If you happened to be on the Westlake campus this week, you might have noticed a big, silver space-ship looking vehicle parked on the front sidewalk! While the outside drew quite a bit of attention, it was what was inside that really impressed. The brand-new Airsteam Travel Trailer designed in 2017 by Tesselate is a fully customized, state-of-the-art research-grade science lab known as the BioBus. The non-profit BioBus, based in New York City, travels around the tri-state area bringing high-tech science lessons right to the front door of local schools. Westalke is the first suburban school to house this solar- fueled science immersion laboratory.
In an ongoing effort to offer more STEM related programs to the students in the Mount Pleasant Central School District, administrators are exploring creative educational solutions. After this summer’s STEAM Symposium, the BioBus was a natural follow-up. STEAM Symposium coordinators, Janet Matthews and Mary Knopp, was able to secure a grant from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in Tarrytown, NY, a generous sponsor of the BioBus, to book a visit to Westlake. Symposium attendees, in addition to all 8th and 9th grade science students were treated to a 40 minute lesson on board the mobile lab.
BioBus scientists Rob Frawley, Ph.D. (who received a BS in Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University and a Ph.D. from Weill Cornell Medical College) and Li Murphy (who holds a B.A. degree in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and minor in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Harvard University) led the biology based lessons on single cell and multi-cell organisms. On one side of the “bus” students were able to manipulate one of several microscopes to observe a water organism called Daphnia, commonly referred to as a water flea. On the other side, students swabbed their cheeks to collect cells and were able to observe them under a high-powered microscope. The scientists encouraged students to record their observations by writing directly on the “silver boards” that lined the entire inside of the bus. Both Frawley and Murphy had a very down-to-earth teaching style which made the students feel at ease and made many realize that scientists can have a lot of fun! And from the animated responses from the students, it was apparent they were definitely having fun.
Back in the classroom, the 9th grade living environment students enthused “It was a fun way to learn about science. I loved using the high-tech microscope. You could really see all the details of what your were looking at.” Others agreed, "I would love to do the BioBus again.” Sparking that enthusiasm is the mission of the BioBus and the Mount Pleasant School District alike. They hope to support young students’ journeys to make science part of their life, wherever that journey leads.