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  September 17, 2001

Lab on Wheels Takes Sciences to Schools

Look up the road! It's a classroom. It's a science lab. It's BioBus.

The customized mobile laboratory is making its way around Connecticut's middle and high schools, capturing students' attention and promoting interest in the state's flourishing biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

Thanks to sponsorship from the University through the Health Center and the Storrs campus, the 40-foot-long learning center will spend a day at Farmington High School and at a school near Storrs.

Built to accommodate up to 24 students and two instructors at a time, BioBus will offer students an opportunity to put science to work in inquiry-based experiments. For example, through the Mystery of the Crooked Cell, students will investigate the biological clues that lead professional scientists and clinicians to the genetic diagnosis of the sickle cell trait. Students will also have a chance to do their own DNA fingerprinting and compare DNA samples to solve a hypothetical jewel theft.

"This is a wonderful way to interest middle and high school students in science and to show them that the biotechnology and pharmaceutical fields provide good career possibilities in Connecticut," says James Walter, associate vice president, communications, at the Health Center. "BioBus can help us keep our students and their talents in the state."

When the BioBus spends the day at Farmington High School in February, it will be the site for lessons in biology, anatomy and physiology and youth and law classes. Carol Staley, a science teacher at Farmington High, says the visit of the BioBus will open up new opportunities for students. "It will really spark their interest in health and bioscience," she says.

Scientists from some of Connecticut's bioscience companies tour with the BioBus, answering questions, serving as role models, and discussing the breakthrough discoveries taking place in the state's companies and academic research institutions.

The students and teachers conduct their own experiments in the $300,000 lab, using equipment not available in most schools, including Apple PowerBook G4 laptop computers, $300 pipettes, and electrophoresis units that can process DNA samples. All the computers are connected, and there are video screens that flip down from the ceiling so instructors can run educational DVDs.

The BioBus program is one of only three in the country. The first was MobileLab, sponsored by the Boston University School of Medicine, and the other is associated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

BioBus is jointly funded by Connecticut Innovations Inc., the state's venture investment agency, and by members of Connecticut United for Research Excellence (CURE). Companies and universities in the state, including UConn, provide money and equipment for the BioBus through five-year sponsorship agreements.

Kristina Goodnough

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