All posts by Sasha Chait

Stories of Impact: Simons Foundation Video Features BioBus

“Discovering microscopic worlds on board a bus isn’t something that most people can say they’ve done in their lives. However, junior scientist Jaylene Muñoz — and countless other New York City K-12 students — have done just that, thanks to BioBus, a growing fleet of mobile science labs that reach students who may not otherwise have access to meaningful science engagement. Fitted with state-of-the-art microscopes and other equipment, BioBus helps these students realize their full science potential.” Read more.

Temboo Stories of Community Engagement Featuring Community Scientist Ashley Pirovano

Jessica Califano from BioBus partner Temboo interviewed Ashley Pirovano:

A young Latina woman stands with her hands on her hips smiling at an attentive group of mostly Black children. They are all using a microscope together outside.

If you’re lucky, at some point in during your time in school you encountered a teacher that ignited a spark in you. A teacher who made a subject that you may never have been very interested in, somehow extraordinarily fascinating. Maybe even one who helped you rethink what was possible for your future, and altered the course of your life completely.

Ashley Priovano is one of those educators. As a Community Scientist at BioBus, her role is to spark an interest in science in students of all ages every day.

As part of our ongoing Stories of Community Engagement Interview Series, I spoke with Ashley about her journey from ballerina to scientist, how her work opens the eyes of students to the wonders of science, and what she hopes to see for the future.

Read the interview on the Temboo Blog. Ashley shares the history of BioBus and tells the story Dr. George Washington Carver who created the original mobile lab, talks about our Junior Scientists and the DIY microscope, shares and tells us how she got into science after thinking she would be a dancer.

Molecular Ideas: Driving STEM Education with BioBus

Jack Fischer from Molecular Ideas spoke to Community Scientist Francesca Anselmi and wrote about BioBus:

Welcome to Molecular Ideas and thank you for sharing your time with us. We’re back today with a Startup Showcase for an organization dedicated to empowering students, parents, and communities with scientific literacy through hands-on engagement.

“There’s this crazy group of scientists in New York City who teach kids on a bus.”

That was how both I and Dr. Francesca Anselmi, Ph.D. heard about BioBus. Yet, such a simple statement could never hope to encompass this organization’s unique method for teaching science and instilling a passion for it in dozens of communities. Francesca is BioBus’ Chief Scientist, who I had the pleasure of sitting down with to discuss the organization’s unique positioning and scalable model for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education.

Visit Molecular Ideas to read more. Jack shares the numbers that highlight the lack of representation in STEM fields and Francesca tells the story of two BioBus students and discusses some of our diversity, equity, and inclusion work.

With $400k Grant from Manton Foundation, BioBus Launches in New England

The science education nonprofit, started in New York City in 2008, will bring hands-on inquiry-based science learning to thousands of students across New England

For immediate release, October 12, 2021

Somerville, Massachusetts Elementary students at West Somerville Neighborhood and Winter Hill Community Innovation public schools are in for a treat. Mollie Thurman, BioBus Chief Scientist, will be on site at both schools every week this fall with research science tools and Harvard PhD student volunteers. But this isn’t a one-time chance for students to learn through hands-on science – or exclusively for these two schools. The Manton Foundation, a family foundation with grantmaking interests primarily in New England, recently awarded a two-year grant of $398,750 to BioBus, Inc. The grant, along with other philanthropic and academic support, is funding BioBus to launch permanently in Boston and the greater New England area, the organization’s first major expansion outside of New York City. Through this expansion, BioBus will bring science programming that is responsive to community needs to thousands of students throughout New England. With BioBus, students will connect with academic scientists and the growing biotech industry, and start their own paths to become the next generation of scientists, innovators, and problem solvers. 

Students using research microscopes aboard a BioBus Mobile Lab in Somerville in 2018, including an electron microscope (right)

Since 2008, BioBus has helped more than 300,000 students become budding scientists. Over 80% of these students are from minority and low-income backgrounds. BioBus plans to bring expertise in science engagement and pedagogy to Boston students immediately, and within five years the team hopes to deploy BioBus New England, a new mobile laboratory to deliver programs across broader New England.

Already, through annual mobile laboratory visits, BioBus has reached over 1,800 students in the region and has attended events and conferences in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine. These visits have led to strong partnerships with universities such as Harvard University Molecular & Cellular Biology and the Institute for Chemical Imaging of Living Systems at Northeastern University as well as the Somerville Public Schools. With this expansion, BioBus will develop partnerships with schools around New England. 

A BioBus Mobile Lab open to the public in Cambridge

Interested in getting involved and signing up for programs? If you or a school or organization you know wants to partner, work with, or donate to BioBus New England, please visit www.biobus.org/newengland, or contact Chief Community Scientist Mollie Thurman at mollie@biobus.org.

About BioBus

BioBus’s mission is to help K-12 and college students discover, explore, and pursue science. The organization focuses on students excluded from the scientific community due to factors such as race, gender, economic status, and physical access. Through this work, BioBus envisions a world where everyone can reach their full scientific potential. 

BioBus was founded in 2008 as a group of volunteer scientists and a decommissioned San Francisco transit bus on a mission to bring hands-on science learning to students in New York City who could most benefit from it. Since those beginnings the organization has grown rapidly. Still relying on a steady influx of volunteer scientists, as well as partnerships with communities, schools, academic institutions, businesses, and individual supporters, BioBus has expanded its services to a full science engagement pathway from kindergarten through college.

Students in line to board the original BioBus mobile laboratory

Students use a BioBus Science Station to view samples under a microscope, guided by a BioBus Community Scientist

Science At East Side: Unobstructed

by Lavon Sykes, January 2021 in The East Sider

The BioBus Team: Brenda Bolds, Jordan (Recy) Dunn, Shirley Canales, Mariah King, Brianna Brookes, Tenzin Choeyki, and Marc-Anthony Suarez.

For most of the city, the past year has been lights out and doors shut. COVID-19 has been a great force in consuming nationwide morale, energy, and motivation. But, not for East Side’s team of BioBus students.

While many have been sitting on their couches watching Netflix all day, and resigning to the monotony of quarantine, a group of scholars have taken initiative to preserve and express their passions for science. Through BioBus, a program dedicated to imbuing the love of science in low-income minority students, East Side students have been able to reimagine STEM at our school.

East Side is fortunate enough to have won a $20,000 grant due to the work of these students in the Reimagine Schools contest, sponsored by philanthropic organization XQ and the DOE. The $20,000 will help “mentor 10 juniors who are going to do their PBATs in the Spring” by supplying them with high-tech microscopes ready to kickstart their “hands-on experience,” says Assistant Principal and STEM Coordinator Joseph Vincente.

The story’s ending, although grand, doesn’t fully underscore the hard work and dedication each student, Joe, and BioBus put into achieving their goals. Every week before the shutdown, the group met at the library to discuss redesigning the East Side STEM programs and building the East Village biology base in the vacated space outside the auditorium on the 11th street side of the school.

A student on the team, Recy Jordan, said, “Through BioBus and getting the grant it would help spread that [STEM] to others. I feel great that I was able to help support STEM at East Side.” With nothing but high hopes and the means to bring them to fruition, the team was disappointed and briefly set back by the city-wide shutdown. Joe stated, “Then the pandemic happened and it came to a halt.” Discussion of the competition, biology base ideas, and the in-person meetings were put on pause.

Their dedication paid off as the team continued to attend Zoom meetings, and the city contacted Joe to provide East Side with a “mini-grant.” This is the $20,000 grant that will allow research at East Side to continue with high-tech equipment. The full prize money, however, was unable to be offered due toCOVID, but there is a possibility that the competition will resume once normalcy is reached, and the possibility for the full prize fund would be on the table. Although nothing about $20,000 is mini, it still won’t be enough to fully fund the biology base project.

Joe hopes that the students, city, and donors will “have enough momentum to reenter the contest and win even more money.” For current students and alumni, the large space that gave a home to many missing kickballs, baseballs, hats, and papers may become a center for science and exploration at East Side.

We’re all rooting for our science team, and we hope that as the city can resume normalcy over the next few months, our passionate students can once again have fun with biology and science exploration in person. And hopefully, that comes with a side of the money needed to build the biology base.

Amid One Pandemic, Students Train for the Next (NYTimes + Video + Student Publication)

Researchers have banded together to find safe, virtual ways to teach the principles of microbiology and epidemiology.

Teresa Bautista, a student at the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan, collecting goose dropping samples at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Christine Marizzi/BioBus

By Katherine J. Wu
Jan. 21, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

On a crisp afternoon in November, Teresa Bautista ventured into Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, N.Y., on the lookout for feces. It didn’t take long for Ms. Bautista, 17 — and, to her chagrin, her white Puma shoes — to hit some serious pay dirt.

Speckled all across the park’s grass was the greenish glint of goose droppings, which Ms. Bautista eagerly swabbed and swirled into a tubeful of chemicals. “This was my first time digging into poop,” she said. “It was really fun.”

Article continues in The New York Times. Read the press release for more information and check out the documentary short “Feathers Gone Viral” produced by Christine Lin.

The first publication from our BioBus New York City Virus Hunters community science program is out! Our research team composed of high school students, veterinarians, seasoned virologists and bird rehabilitators discovered interesting viruses in NYC pigeons! Read the publication to learn about their research.

Virus Hunters program launches with students helping to prevent the next pandemic

Urban influenza virus surveillance research study begins in New York City with support from Flu Lab – and local high school students take center point

For immediate release, September 29, 2020

New York, New York High school students at BioBus, Inc. in New York City are a step ahead as they begin work to prepare for and prevent future pandemics. The New York City Virus Hunters, a new program of the nonprofit organization BioBus, is the first large-scale attempt to map an influenza virus in the Big Apple. Each year, hundreds of local students will engage in (safe) virus surveillance and conduct science research right in their neighborhoods. 

BioBus is partnering with the Krammer Laboratory at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS), a global leader in influenza virus research, and the Wild Bird Fund (WBF), New York City’s not-for-profit, wildlife rehabilitation center, to launch this novel and scalable community science initiative. Wild birds can disseminate infectious virus particles that spread avian diseases, especially avian influenza, and bird-to-bird and bird-to-human transmission are more likely in highly populated areas. Surveillance and species identification are vital to prepare for and prevent a possible future pandemic, and to identify the species of viruses that may be harmful to humans and other birds. 

Photo Courtesy of Mount Sinai

Project organizers from BioBus hope that the project will be replicated around the world as part of an international effort to map an influenza virus in birds in urban areas. “One thing that struck me during the COVID-19 pandemic are reports that students feel left out from the conversation and therefore, helpless. This is a unique opportunity for students to learn about virology and actively participate in research to make our city safer,” said Christine Marizzi, program Principal Investigator and Chief Scientist at BioBus. “In all my years of doing science outreach, I have never seen a more urgent need to partner with the local community to answer all their questions around viruses and generate crucial data on the spread of avian diseases in American cities.” 

“I think this is an excellent program that brings together influenza virus surveillance, efficient science outreach, and training of the next generation of scientists, especially from communities underrepresented in science,” shared Professor Florian Krammer from Mount Sinai’s Department of Microbiology and a leading virologist.

Generously funded by The Flu Lab, the program will initially run over two years. 

About BioBus
BioBus’s mission is to help minority, female, and low-income K – 12 and college students in New York City discover, explore, and pursue science. Through this work, we envision a world where all people have the opportunity to reach their full scientific potential. Since 2008, 300,000 students at more than 800 schools have discovered the thrill of scientific discovery, with many embarking on a path of scientific exploration and sustained pursuit. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the 22 scientists and staff at BioBus brought all programs online and have engaged over 4,000 students from elementary school through college in science from the safety of their homes. 

About the Krammer Laboratory at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
The Krammer laboratory studies cross-reactive antibody responses to the surface glycoproteins of antigenically variable RNA viruses. Our main focus is on influenza viruses, but we are also interested in antibody responses to coronaviruses, hantaviruses, filoviruses, and other emerging RNA viruses. Work done in the laboratory includes the expression and characterization of viral glycoproteins, generation of glycoprotein-directed monoclonal antibodies, and the characterization of the interaction between antibodies and surface glycoproteins; we are specifically interested in analyzing conserved epitopes and – through detailed studies – aim to elucidate the mechanisms by which these antibodies protect the host from viral infection and disease. The final goal is to translate these findings into novel vaccines and therapeutics.

About Wild Bird Fund
Wild Bird Fund is a state and federally licensed 501(c)(3) that cares for the injured, ill and orphaned wildlife of New York City.  Medical care includes radiographs, diagnostic testing, surgery, medication, bandaging, splinting, physical therapy, feeding and sheltering, for as many as 7,000 animals a year.  Our mission is twofold:  to provide veterinary care and rehabilitation to native and migrant wildlife so that they can be released back into the wild, and to educate New Yorkers about the rich diversity and environmental needs of the city’s precious wildlife. 

About The Flu Lab
Flu Lab’s mission is to fuel bold approaches to defeat influenza. We power transformative approaches to advance influenza research, promote open science principles, and explore new influenza solutions. To achieve this, Flu Lab seeks out high-impact opportunities, makes investments and grants, evaluates results, and provides opportunities for shared learnings. We support initiatives that range from big and bold efforts to smaller, highly creative programs. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Flu Lab is also supporting local and global efforts to strengthen detection, response, and mitigation efforts and protect vulnerable populations.

Contact information:
Christine Marizzi, Ph.D., BioBus Chief Scientist, christine@biobus.org

BioBus to Set up Permanent Site at Astoria Houses

New York Council Member Costa Constantinides and western Queens community leaders joined with BioBus on September 24 to announce the science education non-profit would set up a permanent installation at the NYCHA Astoria Houses.

Thursday’s announcement represents years of partnership between BioBus and the Astoria Houses, where it has focused on connecting young people with the health of the neighboring East River. BioBus will be able to purchase a new mobile lab for the site thanks to a $304,000 allocation secured by Constantinides in this Fiscal Year’s budget.

“BioBus has already been an amazing partner here in western Queens, to introduce more people to the wonders of science,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides, District 22. “I am so excited we can mark Climate Week by making BioBus a permanent fixture at the Astoria Houses. This will continue the Hallets Point peninsula’s revolution into a leader on sustainability.”

Read more in The National Herald.