All Aboard the BioBus

Brain Awareness Week (BAW) has finally arrived, and brain-related festivities are kicking off all over the world! Getting an early start, the BioBus pulled over in New York City’s bustling neighborhood of Harlem this past Saturday. Crowds gathered around the display tables stationed outside of the repurposed, 1970s school bus and climbed up the stairs into the mobile science laboratory. braiNY volunteers passed out Dana Foundation publications and brain-shaped materials at one table, while the other table had diagrams, plasticine models, and microscope slides of parts of real brains. At a glance, one could easily overlook the fluid-filled containers resting on the table. But upon closer inspection, it became clear that those containers held whole, human brains!

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This year’s BioBus parked alongside Harlem’s busy 125th Street, drawing a large crowd of curious locals.

Once a typical 1974 transit bus, the refurbished BioBus is now a partially solar and biofuel-powered science lab on wheels. It travels almost every day of the school year, parking in front of schools, museums, summer camps, festivals, and more to give people a chance to use its research-grade equipment and learn more about science. BioBus volunteers range from university students to Nobel Prize-winning scientists. (Bill Nye has even been known to make an appearance or two!)

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braiNY volunteers welcomed onlookers to put on gloves and hold a real human brain outside of the BioBus.

Inside, a row of high-powered microscopes line the wall where seats used to be. Monitors are connected to each microscope, offering a live display of the contents on each slide, while braiNY volunteers stood by to explain the significance of what we were seeing. One slide showed neurons in a mouse brain after being injected with Alzheimer’s disease. This study was done to examine the effects of the neurodegenerative disease and compare symptoms with those experienced by humans. Another slide contained slithering Caenorhabditis elegans (a.k.a. C. elegans), a free-living, non-parasitic roundworm that lives in temperate soil environments. Personally, a view into that microscope was not necessary—watching the squirming, transparent nematodes on the TV screen was enough. Towards the back of the bus, a station was set up where volunteers could see how their neurons fire.

The BioBus has been running since 2008, encouraging students to pursue their interest in neuroscience and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) programs. In addition to the bus, the BioBase opened its doors to the public in 2014. This indoor science lab provides students with a space to conduct in-depth research projects under the guidance of neuroscientists. This year, the BioBase will be open to the public on March 16 in New York City—stay tuned for coverage!

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– Seimi Rurup

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