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Local youth conduct science experiments with help of laboratory on wheels

  • Qiuyun Tan / Staff Photographer
    SCIENCE ON WHEELS | Students participate in an experiment on Saturday as part of the BioBus' visit to campus.

College Walk transformed into a laboratory on Saturday afternoon thanks to a visit from the BioBus.

Columbia University Scientists and Engineers for a Better Society invited students from local schools and community groups to participate in science experiments through BioBus—a converted transit bus on which microscopes, computers, and a cell culture lab have been installed. The BioBus events are designed to help make science more accessible to young students.

Some of the experiments students conducted on Saturday included creating homemade lava lamps and observing the chemical reaction created by the combination of Mentos and Coca-Cola.

“I know that learning about ‘cool’ science is what initially got me into science,” Darren Chu, SEAS ’14 and the president of SEBS said. “I want to perpetuate that and bring it to the younger generation because I feel like I owe it to them.”

“At least when I was growing up, there seemed to be this veil over science in that people perceived it as really hard to learn and reserved for the geeks and the nerds,” Chu said. “But we really try to make it so that everyone can understand science, and everyone can get behind the teaching of it, and that is in line with this event in particular.”

Ben Dubin-Thaler, CC ’00 and GSAS ’07, said that he has plans to open up a BioBase, which would feature a lab, a planetarium dome, and a green room, on the Lower East Side in September to further promote science education for local children.

Dubin-Thaler co-founded SEBS while getting his Ph.D. at Columbia. In 2007, he also founded Cell Motion Laboratories, the nonprofit that runs BioBus with the goal of teaching younger students what it is like to research in a laboratory setting.

“Ultimately, we want the students to think, ‘Wow, science is fun and cool,’ and for the parents to see how much fun their children are having doing science,” Dubin-Thaler said. “Maybe they’ll support those career choices in the future.”

Stephanie Sarbanes, CC ’13 and a member of SEBS, said that the false dichotomy between science and the humanities could be mended by fusing science, art, and creativity, something that she said the BioBus provided for students.

 “We are all here in our little bubble, learning for ourselves, but we sometimes forget to share it with others,” Sarbanes said.

“Science especially involves a youthful sense of looking at the world through a childlike perspective and constantly being amazed by the smallest discoveries of everyday life.”

Inside the BioBus, sisters Eme Eskaros, 12, and Asia Eskaros, 10, looked through microscopes at three different magnifications of daphnia, a small planktonic crustacean. Dubin-Thaler said that these “charismatic and super-cute model organisms” were caught from Central Park.

“This tiny little organism, when you zoom in, seems to have all of the features that a human has, like a beating heart,” Dubin-Thaler said. “It’s a way for students to really start to understand animal biology and evolution and how organs function.”

 “The daphnia was the coolest thing here because you can see all of the organs and how they move around and work together,” Eme said. “Also, using the microscopes to see our hands and hair up close was great. We didn’t realize how they looked until then.”

“We watched our eyes dilate using the moveable microscope,” Asia added. “And the fact that the daphnia live right near here is really cool to think about, too.”

Their mother, Carol Eskaros, CC ’97, had brought her daughters for a day trip into the city from New Jersey, and the family ran into the event during their visit to Columbia. After learning about crustaceans from the BioBus, Eskaros said that she would take her daughters to check out other daphnia in Central Park.

“I hope that both the fact that the event is science-oriented and that it’s on this campus will challenge them to reach here and to expand upon these studies when they’re older,” Eskaros said.  |  @josie_mcgowan

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