In 2007, Ben Dubin-Thaler purchased a 1974 San Francisco transit bus from Craigslist and transformed the inside of the bus into a mobile laboratory classroom, complete with state-of-the-art microscopes, computers and three rows of blue vinyl-covered, cushioned benches. Today, the BioBus travels around the country, bringing an interactive science education to more than 10,000 students each year.
On a monitor attached to a microscope, a blue-green amoeba slowly crawls across the screen with a wave-like motion. The eyes of the students huddled in front of the screen widen, as this is the first time many of them have seen live cells and small organisms. The microscope is housed in a hands-on science laboratory located in a high-tech, brightly painted bus called the “BioBus.”
In August 2007, Ben Dubin-Thaler, or “Dr. Ben,” founded Cell Motion Laboratories Inc., an educational nonprofit, weeks after defending his doctoral dissertation on cell mobility at Columbia University. Instead of getting a job, he purchased a 1974 San Francisco transit bus from Craigslist and transformed the inside of the bus into a functional wet-lab, outfitted with three state-of-the-art microscopes and computers. All of the equipment is research-grade and was acquired through donations or grants. The BioBus even has a classroom comprised of three rows of blue vinyl-covered, cushioned benches and a large computer screen centered on the back wall.
“While teaching in college and graduate school, I noticed that when other people had this chance to play and experiment, they became excited and happy about science, in contrast to what often happened while sitting through lectures or reading a textbook. The BioBus is my way of bringing the fun and excitement of scientific experimentation to all people,” says Dubin-Thaler.
What also is amazing about the BioBus is that it’s carbon-neutral. Its daily energy needs are provided by the solar panels on the roof of the bus, a wind turbine attached to the front of the bus and an engine that runs on used vegetable oil. And, Dubin-Thaler designs his projects so that they use salvaged materials when possible, in an effort to reduce waste.
The BioBus travels throughout New York state and around the country, bringing an interactive science education to more than 10,000 students each year. The program focuses on students who normally do not have access to high-tech laboratory equipment. The BioBus makes stops at public schools, summer camps, parks, museums, community gardens, urban farms and after-school programs. In addition, the bus parks at various locations around the city and opens its doors to the curious public.