Never mind the Magic School Bus.
These days, the BioBus is all the rage. Just ask students, teachers and parents at Manorhaven Elementary School.
A carbon neutral vehicle, the BioBus is billed as a “high-tech laboratory on wheels” with the sole purpose of getting kids excited about science.
That was certainly the case on a recent Monday at Manorhaven School, where fourth and fifth grade students had the chance to climb aboard and peer through state-of-the-art equipment. Together, they examined how the human body compares to daphnia, an organism that lives in ponds (including Mill Pond), puddles and swamp water.
They observed the daphia's heart beating, digestive system and more. And in different experiment, students viewed their own exteriors in yet another powerful microscope, identifying patterns in their hair cells, pupils, clothes and more.
“That is disgusting!” one fifth-grader said enthusiastically, upon viewing the inside of his classmate’s ear.
Still, the glee in his voice, and that of the other students upon making discoveries, was hard to miss.
That reaction – the sound of kids excited about science – means BioBus founder Ben Dubin-Thaler, or “Dr. Ben,” is achieving his goal.
“It gets them inspired,” he said, after a group of fifth-graders piled out of the bus. “They think of themselves as scientists.”
Dubin-Thaler says he bought the bus, a converted transit bus from San Francisco, for $15,000, five years ago after he presented his Ph.D. thesis at Columbia University.
Dubin-Thaler added a green roof, which now sports a row of native plants, solar panels and even a wind turbine, which generates electricity. The engine has been converted to grease, which is collected from restaurants.
High-tech equipment, including microscopes, cameras and lighting have been donated by Olympus, Carl Zeiss, Motic, Swift and Nikon.
Dubin-Thaler said he modeled the BioBus after a science van that visited his community while he was growing up in Urbana, Illinois. Though he later considered becoming a teacher, he found his calling helping teachers by bringing science to schools all over the metropolitan area. He offers programs for students at all grade levels, from elementary to high school.
While the bus has traveled as far as Denver and Santa Fe, these days Dubin-Thaler says he spends most of the academic year visiting local schools. He said is also working on new BioBus headquarters at the Lower East Side Girls Club in Manhattan, where trained volunteers assist with classes, labs and activities.
Jessica Miller, a Manorhaven School parent, discoverd the bus at a science expo. Becuase her own children were so enthralled onboard the BioBus, she suggested bringing the bus to Port Washington.
Manorhaven Principal Bonni Cohen said she hopes to see the BioBus return next year, and work with the entire school population, perhaps even across the district.
“We are always looking for new and exciting ways to enhance the curriculum,” she said. “The Biobus was a fabulous way to bring science enrichment to our students.”