On February 7th, for the first time, fourth and fifth graders at PS 346 were able to experience the magic of the BioBus, a solar-powered, mobile laboratory designed as an outreach program with the vision to inspire scientific exploration in children. Founded in 2008, the BioBus creates a community-like lab, and provides students the opportunity to 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.
The students at PS 346 were beside themselves in awe upon seeing the silver, sleek trailer-like bus awaiting their inquisitive investigation in the Spring Creek Shopping Center’s parking lot. The children were greeted by two neurobiologists, Francesca Anselmi and Tessa Hirschfeld-Stoler, who explained the concept behind the laboratory on wheels.
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.
“What is biology,” asked Hirschfeld-Stoler to a group of fifth graders upon boarding the mobile lab. Many of the children answered with “the study of plants, animals and humans.” To their surprise, Hirschfeld-Stoler grabbed a marker and began writing on the bus’s silver, Plexiglass walls. “Biology is the study of…,” she said underlining the word, “Bio, stands for the word life. Logy means study. So biology is the study of life, and we are the BioBus—the life bus,” Hirschfeld-Stoler said.
In order to accommodate the six different classes of 30 students, the scientists divided them into two groups: one section grabbed a clipboard to record their notes as they observed a Daphnia (a tiny crustacean) and other microscopic organisms. The other half learned about invertebrate by using a high-powered microscope to examine deceased insects.
After about a half-an hour, the classes switched lessons so they could compare their observations and discuss the functions of the organisms they examined. Some children’s jaws dropped when they saw what a Yellow Jacket Wasps’ eye looked like under the high-powered microscope, while others couldn’t help, but point their tiny hands at the interesting body parts of a Daphnia.
One fifth grader was happy to display his knowledge of science when examining the insects. When asked to describe the structure of a wasps’ eye, which was shown on a computer screen while Hirschfeld-Stoler used the microscope, one student said, “The wasp’s eye has a grid pattern on it!”
“That is an excellent observation! A wasp has a compound eye, which is about a thousand eyes,” Hirschfeld-Stoler said while drawing an oval with gridlines going through it.
By the end of their trip, the students were able to see a live animal’s beating heart, twitching muscles, digestive system, and make observations of the various parts of a deceased invertebrate.
Marissa Cortes, 11, walked off the bus filled with pure adrenaline and inspiration. “I just have to be a scientist,” she said to herself hugging her clipboard tightly as if the thought of handing it back would make her dream less tangible. “I want to be a scientist because they can use microscopes to study something small. I liked looking at the insects because they are so small, but then under the microscope they look so big, and I can see that they have so many particles and cool stuff about it,” Cortes said.
“I really enjoyed today’s lessons because it’s actually pretty fun to see such small creatures! I’ve have never seen anything like the creatures I saw today,” said fifth grader, Tyree Caesar.
Photos by Amanda Moses