Instead of looking at pictures in textbooks or working with simulations on computers, high school students across Maryland have a chance to experiment with professional scientists while using the latest lab equipment.
The teens conduct these experiments, not in their classroom, but in a bus outfitted as a mobile laboratory,
The traveling Bio Lab
recently visited Patapsco High School and Center for Arts in Baltimore, which delighted of their teacher.
“Today, the chemistry students were able to do an acid based hydration, which means they neutralize an acid with a base," Leah Warble said. "Normally they would do it through simulations on the computer. The BioLab is allowing them to do it in real life, actual time and actually apply it to something we use in real life, which is biodiesel.”
Instructor Angel Mangus, who is in charge of the 13-meter Maryland BioLab, says the converted bus has the equipment students need to explore a wide variety of sciences.
“We have anything from biology to forensic science," Mangus said. "So we have a blood lab where they go ahead and test if any of the evidence samples has blood on it. We also have DNA analysis lab where they are trying to test and see who did a specific crime. And we also have chemistry.”
The mobile lab has been bringing this sort of bioscience education to schools around Maryland for more than a decade.
“It is really nice to get them in here with hands-on activities," Mangus said. "They get really excited and want to be engaged.”
The program is supported by the MarylandBio Foundation
“The equipment that students use on the mobile lab, they do not have in schools," said Brian Gaines, chief executive officer of the non-profit group. "Our instructors are actually scientists, they work alongside the teachers. They are bringing science experience from the laboratory into the schools and teach the students how to use the newest techniques that we have in science.”
That makes a difference to 15-year-old Seda Sinan, who is interested in biology.
“It gave me more materials to work with than what I have at school," she said. "It is like more interactive.
Her classmate Shenara Jefferson agrees.
“It really showed me how just a little bit of difference can really impact your product when you are doing something in there," Jefferson said. "Like I only added just a little bit of the solution and it completely affected my entire thing.”
Warble, the Patapsco High School teacher, says kids usually don't know what they are interested in until they are exposed to it.
The BioLab is an innovative way to do that.
“The excitement of feeling like a real scientist, even just a change in what they are wearing, wearing goggles and blue gloves versus white gloves made them feel more like television scientists, if you will," Warble said. "Being allowed to handle this kind of situation makes them more responsible for the work because they are now intrigued in doing it and they feel respected and responsible since we gave them those opportunities.”
The Lab’s mission is to help create the next generation of scientists.
“We use this program to talk about careers in science, not only science, but science, technology, engineering and math,” Gaines said.
In the process, instructors like Angel Mangus become role models as well.
“At the end of each class, if we have enough time, we like to take five, 10 minutes and talk about us, ourselves," she said. "We tell them how we got into science, maybe where we went to school, what we did, the different kinds of things we could do.”
She adds that, after they finish their experiments, many students leave the BioBus excited about the possibility of becoming scientists.