Public Release: 

UNC-CH bus brings mobile lab, high-tech science focus to underserved N.C. schools

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

CHAPEL HILL -- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill next week will launch a new traveling science laboratory that will bring the latest technology and teaching tools to North Carolina schools lacking science resources.

A custom-built 40-foot, 26,000-pound bus -- emblazoned with the slogan "The Best Thing in Science Education to Hit the Road" -- is full of state-of-the-art science and technology equipment for wet laboratory experiments, Internet exploration and carefully honed curriculum materials. The bus will begin its treks across the state in the coming weeks in a project that is among the first of its kind nationwide.

The science bus grew from the work of the Partnership for Minority Advancement in the Biomolecular Sciences, a consortium begun more than a decade ago by UNC-CH that includes seven historically minority universities. The UNC-CH-based consortium introduces biomolecular science into public school and college classrooms across the state in response to growing national concerns about a science teacher shortage, a decline in the number of Americans pursuing graduate degrees in science and a lack of diversity within the science professions.

Glaxo Wellcome Inc. awarded the university a five-year, $1.6 million grant to build the bus, equip it and support operations.

"This exciting outreach effort lies at the core of the university's public service and teaching missions and beautifully highlights our commitment to enhance education in North Carolina," said Interim Chancellor William O. McCoy. "The traveling science laboratory advances already strong links between the university and our state's schools as well as with longtime benefactor and collaborator Glaxo Wellcome.

"By partnering together, both the university and Glaxo Wellcome hope to share the thrill of discovery in new ways that will foster diversity within the scientific professions," McCoy said. "Science increasingly plays a major role in fueling the North Carolina economy, so this bus represents a creative investment in our state's future."

Added George Abercrombie, senior vice president for commercial operations for Glaxo Wellcome Inc. and chair of the UNC-CH Board of Visitors, "Glaxo Wellcome is enthusiastically supporting the traveling science laboratory because the university's bold vision matches our strong interest in giving back to the scientific community in North Carolina and beyond. Educators nationwide are searching for ways to make science come alive for young people. This bus can help meet that critical challenge in North Carolina's schools and communities."

McCoy and Abercrombie will participate in a ceremony at UNC-CH Monday (April 10) to formally launch the bus, cut a symbolic ribbon and recognize students from two North Carolina high schools participating in the consortium that won a contest to nickname the bus.

The winners are from Pamela A. Benton's third-period biology class at Bladenboro High School and Mary Ann Jones's second-period allied health class at Southeast Halifax High School. Both classes submitted the nickname "Destiny," which now appears on the front panel of the bus. The students and their teachers will have lunch with scientists from UNC-CH and Glaxo Wellcome and tour the Carolina campus, including science buildings and laboratories. In addition, UNC-CH will honor the two classes by making their schools in Bladenboro and Halifax the first two stops the bus will make.

Many science educators across North Carolina are hampered by a lack of ongoing professional development opportunities as well as access to equipment -- including laboratories, computers and the Internet -- that can help them more effectively teach their students, said Dr. Walter E. Bollenbacher, professor of biology at UNC-CH and director of the Partnership for Minority Advancement in the Biomolecular Sciences.

"We want to share how high-quality science can be effectively taught and then continue to serve as an ongoing resource for students, teachers and their schools and districts," he said. "The project will explore how universities and schools can best collaborate to contribute to science education reform in North Carolina. The support and interest from Glaxo Wellcome and its scientists will greatly advance our exploration."

The traveling science laboratory, which was built on a BlueBird chassis customized by Ohio Bus Specialty Vehicles in Canton, Ohio, will provide students and teachers access to equipment and instruction with a minimum of movement. Equipment inside includes wireless Internet access via satellite, laptop computers donated by IBM Corp., gel electrophoresis apparatus for separating proteins and DNA, a thermocycler for polymerase chain reaction experiments and incubators. Other items include spectrophotometers for finding the quantity of protein in a solution, a special plate reader to determine the concentration of a protein and a remotely controlled camera that enables students to see a teacher's demonstration on video monitors throughout the bus.

Program activities include a cutting-edge biomolecular science curriculum and inquiry-based, hands-on experiments developed by the Boston University School of Medicine's CityLab that include modules such as "The Case of the Crown Jewels," a DNA fingerprinting exercise, or "The Mystery of the Crooked Cell," which involves determining if a hypothetical patient has sickle cell anemia.

Local business and educational leaders will be invited to participate in activities during bus stops, which are expected to span several days at each site, Bollenbacher said.

The project will tap partners working to advance science education in North Carolina, he said. For example, the involvement of LEARN North Carolina, a one-stop Web site offered free to all N.C. public school systems through UNC-CH's School of Education, should broaden awareness of the variety of excellent programs at UNC-CH and elsewhere working to strengthen science education and steer students toward careers in science.

Besides UNC-CH, members of the partnership consortium are Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, Johnson C. Smith, N.C. Agricultural and Technical State, N.C. Central and Shaw universities as well as UNC-Pembroke. The science bus will be available to those campuses to extend outreach efforts with their region's high school science teachers and students, Bollenbacher said. The consortium's network includes 135 teachers from 85 secondary schools. Initial projects are planned for both teachers and students in Bladen, Guilford and Wake counties. The bus will expand its travel schedule in the fall.


Ceremony: On Monday, April 10, at 11 a.m., Interim Chancellor William O. McCoy and George Abercrombie, senior vice president for commercial operations for Glaxo Wellcome, will preside at an invitation-only ceremony to launch the bus. Both will make brief remarks, followed by a ribbon-cutting with the public school students from Bladenboro and Halifax who helped name the bus. Other participants will include U.S. Rep. David Price. Ceremony invitees and media representatives then can tour the bus, see experiment demonstrations and interview organizers including UNC-CH biology professor Walter Bollenbacher. The bus will stop at Glaxo Wellcome in Research Triangle Park at 2 p.m. so employees can learn more about the project. For details, call Tom Fuldner at Glaxo Wellcome, 919-483-2839. UNC-CH's ceremony is adjacent Graham Memorial, home of the James M. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence, located off East Franklin Street near McCorkle Place.

Color bus photos can be downloaded at
Web link:

News Services contacts: Mike McFarland, 919-962-8593, Karen Moon (broadcast), 962-8595, Dan Sears (photography), 962-8592


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