I loved my job this summer: it used the wind to move hearts and minds (it’s a bird?), it traveled across the nation from New York City to Minneapolis to Denver to San Antonio, (it’s a plane?), and it consumed vegetable oil by the tank (it’s a fast food chain?).
No. It’s the BioBus! A mobile science laboratory based out of the Bronx in New York City (think modern Magic School bus) serving ages one to one hundred, equipped with hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of research-grade microscopes, solar panels, and a wind turbine. The advanced technology on the interior paired with an adorable old-fangled exterior proves that the complexity of the laboratory can be combined with the approachability of a retrofitted 1974 city transit bus to great effect.
The BioBus runs on recycled vegetable oil and the thrill of scientific discovery. It churns about the nation year-round inspiring, driving, and pioneering science education beyond the classroom and to frontiers at the nano-scale. Dramatic and epic, yes. Serious and stuffy, not at all. Although it is staffed by Ph.D.-level scientists and features one of the most sophisticated scientific instruments on the market (a TopCon Scanning Electron Microscope), the BioBus leads with fun while teaching the fundamental principles of science. Having taught and experimented aboard the BioBus, I now have a high standard for laboratory protocol as I move forward in my education. (Let’s just say I expect a lot of Sour Patch Kids, sample gathering expeditions, color printer access, and glitter.)
As a nonprofit in its fifth year of operation, the organization was at a crossroads this summer. In New York City, the competition for resources in the nonprofit sector is fierce and quantifiable outcomes are necessary for grant applications. Luckily, the Harvard Center for Public Interest Careers (CPIC) funds internships for such nonprofits, giving twenty-five Harvard students the opportunity to work in public service organizations of their choosing each summer.
At just five years old, the BioBus, which began as the grassroots effort of a single visionary scientist, has grown to reach over 20,000 individuals across the nation, from students to scientists, from artists to educators. Setting the bar as a nonhierarchical laboratory model, an all-access scientist training ground, and a beacon of sustainable science practice, it is surprising that the BioBus has to further set itself apart. As a summer intern, I saw firsthand meetings about the organization’s mission statement and how to use past experiences to learn and grow. One thing that still rings true was a statement by the founder, Dr. Benjamin-Dubin Thaler, “The BioBus is a vehicle and a movement.” Its means support its end and visa versa. I took this to mean that the organization is the method and also the madness, the conduit and also the cause. I think this nugget of truth applies to both running a Magic School Bus and running your life.