On January 31st, sixth, seventh and eighth grade science classes from Frederick Douglass Academy (FDA) VIII were treated to a most unusual experience—a visit onto a mobile laboratory housed in a 1974 transit bus known as the BioBus.
Two biologists, Sascha Russel and Rob Frawley, greeted students warmly as the children peered at the bright yellow and blue bus with anticipation. “I’m a scientist and I work on the BioBus, but where do scientists normally work?” asked Russel. “In a laboratory,” the group of students responded quickly.
Founded in 2008, the BioBus is basically a mobile laboratory, said Russel. It was designed as an outreach program with the vision to inspire scientific exploration in children and gain an appreciation for science through positive interactions, learn from scientist role models and receive direct, hands-on experience in the process of scientific discovery.
Finding themselves aboard the mobile lab, many of the students stared wide-eyed at the high-powered microscopes and high-definition computer screens, all powered by solar panels resting on top of the bus. In addition, the mobile lab is kept warm with an old fashioned, wood furnace.
Throughout the day, six groups of 30 students were given hands on instruction on collecting data, microscopic ecosystems, cells, and the scientific method from Russel and Frawley. Each class was divided into two groups: one section grabbed a clipboard to record their notes as they observed a Daphnia (a tiny crustacean) and the other half learned how to conduct science experiments.
Gabrielle Demosthenes, 11, was excited to use a microscope for the first time. As she examined the Daphnia specimen, she noticed that its heart, which was visible because the crustacean has a clear exoskeleton, beats differently than humans. “Why does the Daphnia’s heart beat once, while our hearts beat twice,” Demosthenes asked Frawley.
“Well that is an excellent observation! Our hearts are divided into sections, the first beat is the atria, receiving blood in one pump, and then the second beat is the ventricles, pumping blood to the body. The Daphnia’s heart only pumps blood from one section,” responded Frawley.
Seventh grader, Jasmine Davis gained a new appreciation for science and liked being a part of such an innovative and educational atmosphere. “I didn’t know what to expect. I enjoyed being able to see a living animal’s heartbeat. I really don’t like science, but this is pretty cool and it has changed my opinion about science,” said Davis.
FDA VIII Assistant Principal, Robert Burnside, was happy that his students were able to experience all the wonders of the BioBus. “Right now a section of our eighth graders are preparing for their science regents, so the BioBus is an excellent opportunity for them to learn more and get hands on experience in taking notes, understanding the scientific process and so much more. The BioBus allows the students to gain a love, an appreciation for science and all its content,” Burnside said.
This unique experience was coordinated by the Spring Creek Recreational Fund (SCRF) and made possible by an anonymous donation to SCRF. The BioBus provided an immersive experience for students in the community to awaken their inner scientist. SCRF is a not-for-profit dedicated to providing environmental and educational opportunities to children enabling them to learn about the natural sciences through hands on experiences. SCRF is the sponsor of the community’s Urban Garden Classroom and the Aquaponic/Hydroponic Laboratory housed in the local elementary school. If you would like to make a donation to encourage scientific discovery aboard the BioBus, contact SCRF at 212-758-1340 to help bring the BioBus back to the Spring Creek Towers Community.
Photos: Amanda Moses & Pamela Stern