Where the Science Meets the Road
“I never knew that learning science could be so much fun!” one student said following a visit to her school by Pitt’s Mobile Science Lab, a truck equipped as a laboratory.
“We didn’t just watch—we did the experiments ourselves right on the truck,” a classmate added.
Part of the Pitt Department of Biological Sciences’ groundbreaking Outreach Program, the Mobile Science Lab brings the world-class research of the University to middle and high schools by inviting students and teachers to roll up their sleeves and work one-on-one with real scientists doing real science in fields like genetics, development biology, and environmental science.
When the Mobile Science Lab visited South Park High School in South Park, Pa., 10th graders played the roles of disease-investigating agents responding to an outbreak of a viral epidemic. Students analyzed DNA to identify the culprit, and the simulation required all of their problem-solving skills to find a solution. “It forces them to look at multiple pieces of data and try to connect them together,” said Alison Slinskey Legg, who directs the Outreach Program.
As part of the Phage Hunters Itegrating Research and Education (PHIRE) program, biological sciences professor Graham Hatfull invites high school students to Pitt labs where they help to isolate and extract DNA from bacteriophages—viruses that infect bacteria.
Another Outreach Program project, Science Mission 101, in conjunction with local public television, pitted two teams of Pittsburgh-area high school students against each other as they competed to unravel scientific mysteries. The educational reality show travels the United States looking for the next generation of scientists.
The Outreach Program’s partners include Pitt’s Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, the Lyceum Group, Thermo Fisher, and the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative—all working together to make education mobile as well as exciting.