San Jose, CA, US
extending academia to low-income youth populations
A Schmahl Science Workshop
Developing the Next-Generation of Scientists through Mobile Lab
Like many start-ups in Silicon Valley, A Schmahl Science Workshop (SSW) began in a garage in 1996 to provide hands-on science activities for kids. Starting with four children, SSW quickly grew to 325 weekend workshop participants. Today, A Schmahl Science Workshop is a 501(c) (3) non-profit corporation that provides hands-on science workshops to schools that do not have the resources to include science as a regular part of their instructional program. Led by Belinda Lowe-Schmahl, executive director, A Schmahl Science Workshop has a strong commitment to reach out to young women and students of color in low income communities. Youngsters in low income communities are just as bright as youngsters from more affluent communitiesthey simply do not have the same opportunities. In 2005, Schmahl Science served 8,542 students attending 35 schools in 14 districts. Last year, SSW provided hands-on science workshops to 22,000 youngsters to 114 schools in 24 school districts. On average, SSW sees the same youngsters about 20 times a yearthat translates to over 400,000 student contact hours. Mission Statement: Like children everywhere, the children at A Schmahl Science Workshop love science. SSW is a partnership of students, parents, teachers, scientists and engineers who have come together to help foster this interest in science because we believe children are motivated to learn when their ideas are cultivated through the fun of designing and developing experiments. Schmahl Science puts the sizzle back into science education. A Schmahl Science Workshop provides the following programs: Classroom o Preschool Linking science and literature o Elementary School Linking science with state science and language arts standards o Middle School and High School Enhancing science provided by science teachers Workshop Development o Developing and vetting of new workshops Home School Summer Camps After School Providing quality science enrichment workshops across grade levels Advanced Student Research Program (ASRP) o Supporting research projects conducted by young scientists o Providing teachers and mentors an environment to practice advanced techniques and use state-of-the-art equipment with young scientists In the Advanced Student Research Program (ASRP), SSW provides university graduate school mentors to young scientists in 6th through 12th grade. As a result of the BioMobileLab being on-line, the Advanced Student Research Program was able to take a state-of-the-art bio-chemistry and bio-technology lab directly into low income communities. In one year the ASRP grew from 20 students to 62 students. Of the 62 students, 31 students received awards for their work at the Synopsys Science Faire. 25 awards went to new students from low income schools o 16 awards Young Women o 9 awards - Latinos If citizens of Silicon Valley are to be scientifically literate, science concepts cannot wait until middle and high school to be taught. Students not only need to have an interest in science nurtured at an early age, but knowledge of science concepts and an understanding of the scientific process. This need is particularly acute in the minority and low income communities. A Schmahl Science Workshop adds a dimension of practical curricular linkage between science standards, language arts standards and adopted language arts materials. Since Schmahl Science works directly with teachers and students on an ongoing basis, SSW is able to demonstrate how science and language arts can really be integrated on a regular basis rather than compete for scarce time and resources. The end result is that more science is taught and more science concepts are learned. In turn, the project results in a growing population that is better able to contribute to the scientific advancement and economic vitality of Silicon Valley.
The Importance of TechnologyHow did the technology you used contribute to this project and why was it important?
Tech innovation drives Silicon Valley. As a part of the Advanced Student Research Program (ASRP), the BioMobileLab drives young scientists to investigate, experiment, and develop innovative ideas. The BioMobileLab is a $200,000 state-of-the-art rolling experimental hi-tech laboratory used to engage junior high and high school students across Silicon Valley to pursue serious bio-science hands-on investigations. Investigations are designed to elicit original thought and promote the scientific method. The availability of the BioMobileLab supports Schmahl Sciences initiative to include more young women and students of color from low income communities in developing and presenting high quality science fair projects. Because of the nature of SSWs Science Fair and Advanced Student Research Programs, many SSW students receive awards. Last year, thirty-one students received awards and three students are working with patent attorneys. The BioMobileLab initiates a cost effective system of bringing a broad range of bio-science labs directly to junior and senior high schools using a fully equipped Sprinter bio-diesel lab. High tech equipment includes: Gas Chromatograph (GC) and Liquid Chromatograph (LC) these systems are used to separate, identify, and quantitate compounds based on the comparison of their retention times in a column coated with a stationary phase vs. the retention time of known standards in the same column. In gas chromatography a carrier gas (inert) transfers the volatile compounds from the sample into a heated column. The interactions of gaseous analytes with the stationary phase cause the different unknown compounds to separate and elute at different retention times. In liquid chromatography the sample is dissolved in a solvent and carried through a column with a stationary phase via a mobile (liquid) phase. The compounds of the sample are transferred back and forth continuously between the two phases which cause them to separate and elute at different retention times. UV-Visible Spectrophotometer used to detect and quantify substances in a solution based on their absorption of light in the ultraviolet and visible regions of the magnetic spectrum. The Thermal Cycler (also known as a PCR Machine or DNA Amplifier) - used to amplify segments of DNA via the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) process. DNA Horizontal Electrophoresis Apparatus- used to separate DNA fragments by size. Protein Vertical Electrophoresis Apparatus - separation of proteins on a single polyacrylamide gel. PhotoDoc Imaging System - used to view and digitally record agarose or acrylamide gels used to separate DNA fragments or protein. Schools in underserved communities often lack the resources (teachers, equipment, funding) to provide advanced science classes. The BioMobileLab not only brings advanced labs in biology, bio-chemistry, and bio-technology directly on to campuses for in-school instruction, it also provides a way of including more students from underserved communities to become involved with the Advanced Student Research Program and participate in local and regional science fairs. SSW currently uses over 100 student-tested bio-science workshops that serve as the basis for the BioMobileLab instructional program. The economics of affluent communities allow schools to provide better science classrooms and laboratory facilities in their junior and high schools, giving their students greater opportunities for learning. A Schmahl Science Workshop works hard to make those same opportunities available to students in less affluent, underserved areas of Silicon Valley. SSW also continues a special emphasis on engaging and encouraging young women in science and utilizes many talented women scientists as staff members and science fair mentors. We frequently ask, Given the same opportunity, what could students living in the poorest areas of Silicon Valley do if they had the same opportunities as those living in the most affluent areas? The BioMobileLab helps provide the opportunities and the answers.
BenefitsHas your project helped those it was designed to help?
Has your project fundamentally changed how tasks are performed?
What new advantage or opportunity does your project provide to people?
The physical construction of the BioMobileLab was completed in August 2007 and the installation of technology was completed in late October. Limited use of the BioMobileLab in the first few months provided opportunities to make minor adjustments and develop skills in how to best set up and deploy different components (materials, scientific equipment, awning, ramp, tables and chairs). Before long, the BioMobileLab was in use almost every day and has made a tremendous difference in Schmahl Sciences ability to provide programs to Middle School and High School students throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. As a result of having the BioMobileLab, last summer SSW was able to offer two-week bio-chem and bio-tech workshops for low income high school students at four Bay Area sites: the Latino College Preparatory Academy, Evergreen Valley College, Ohlone College, and Chabot Community College. With the BioMobileLab, a major goal for the Advanced Student Research Program (ASRP) was to double the size of the program from 20 to 40 students. The focus was to identify 20 additional young women and/or students of color who have the ability, talent, and interest to pursue careers in science and invite them to participate in the program. The results far exceeded SSWs expectations of 40 students. Of the 64 students invited to participate in the ASRP program, only two students did not join. In reality, because of the BioMobileLab, the program tripled in size to 62 students. Seven young scientists continued in the ASRP from the previous year 55 new students participated this year 20 new students were Hispanic girls 12 new students were Hispanic boys Two new students were African American 35 students were girls 21 students came from economically disadvantaged families 31 young ASRP scientists received awards for their work of which: o Young women received 16 awards o Students of color received 9 awards This year, almost 90 students are in the Advanced Student Research Program and finalizing their research projects for the Silicon Valley Synopsys Science Fair in March 2009. Young scientists from low income families are supported through scholarships provided by Noyce and Juniper Networks. Being able to bring the BioMobileLab to multiple sites, many students participate in the ASRP who could not have otherwise. Because the BioMobileLab is on a tight schedule, many students become very effective in managing time while conducting quality research. Another result is that more classroom teachers are directly involved and committed to their students success in science. The surprise in 2008 was that no students dropped outnot one! Many students said their projects involved a lot more work and time than they expected. However, every one of the students interviewed felt a huge sense of accomplishment, talked about their projects with excitement and pride, and felt the time they spent was worth the effort. Perhaps the biggest single impact of the BioMobileLab has been in encouraging so many more students to participate in the Advanced Student Research Program (ASRP). The BioMobileLab has enabled SSW to take the program to students instead of having all the students come to a single site. Being able to use hi tech state-of-the-art equipment, that is easily transportable via the BioMobileLab, makes a huge difference in the projects. In addition to the ASRP program, Schmahl Sciences capacity to serve middle school and senior high school students has been dramatically increased. The impact of the BioMobileLab continues to exceed expectations.
If possible, include an example of how the project has benefited a specific individual, enterprise or organization. Please include personal quotes from individuals who have directly benefited from your work.
In a recent San Jose Business Journal article, Belinda Lowe-Schmahl, Schmahl Sciences executive director and research biochemist said, The mobile lab is comparable to a university lab for upper-division science classes, allowing for experiments that range from DNA extraction to biochemical analysis. We like to put our students through a process where they learn how real science works, which is through hits and misses. They start with a prototype, they test it, and they have to write a budget and figure out how much staff they need to support their research. The following are three examples student projects that are a part of the Schmahl Sciences Advanced Student Research Program. Deepika, 12, is using horseshoe crabs to develop a color change test that may help detect whether a bag of spinach or lettuce is tainted. Tim, 15, is working with millipedes to form a new kind of antibiotic, perhaps for new kinds of infections. Sunil, 17, researched how harmless bacteria can help make soil as solid as concrete, stabilizing the ground and preventing liquefaction during an earthquake. Now a senior at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose and a winner of several science fair medals, Sunil is now working on cancer imaging research team at Stanford University. He recently co-authored an article in the trade publication Nature Nanotechnology. A network of 150 volunteer mentors helps students by answering questions when theyre stumped. Volunteers, such as Marcel Burlet, a staff engineer at Juniper Networks, and Karen Gundy-Burlet, group lead and program manager for the Intelligent Flight Control program at NASA/Ames Research Center, are two of those individuals. Both have been volunteers with Schmahl for 12 years. What I love about the program is that not only are they teaching science, but the underlying idea is that science is fun. Its not dry, dull and boring, Burlet said.
OriginalityIs it the first, the only, the best or the most effective application of its kind? All of the above
What are the exceptional aspects of your project?
A Schmahl Science Workshop does what no teacher can doit brings over 450 hands-on science workshops to students from preschool through high school. Neither teachers nor school districts have the time, talent, or resources to develop 30 hands-on workshops for each grade level that match state or national adopted science standards. No teacher has the time or materials to prepare hands-on workshops on a consistent basis. No teacher can walk into a classroom every day with kits containing materials so that each child can fully participate in hands-on experiments and then leave the classroom as clean as they found it in a one hour workshop. No teacher can integrate the life skills (curiosity, collaboration, responsibility, respect, etc) that scientists use every day directly and purposefully into every workshop. The BioMobileLab is a unique aspect to the Schmahl Science Program. With the capability of 100 bio-chem and bio-tech investigations, SSW has the ability to directly work with high school and junior high teachers to plan specific workshops that enhance what each teacher is presenting to students. As an example, if a teacher is presenting a two week DNA unit, SSW can come in on the first Thursday and the second Wednesday of the unit so that students can put theory into practice. A typical high school lab costs in excess of $50,000 to minimally equip. In most high schools, the lab equipment is as new as the building...in many cases 20 or 30 years old. The BioMobileLab is much more flexibleboth in terms of scientific capability and in terms of mobility. To replicate the BioMobileLabs capability of serving up to 50 schools a year, the cost to schools would exceed $2.5 million. SSW believes that a $200,000 investment in the BioMobileLab is both economical and efficient. The second unique aspect of the BioMobileLab is the ability to bring a fully equipped state-of-the-art bio-chem and bio-tech lab anywhere in the San Francisco Bay and to support young people who are passionate about science and thrive on conducting research. Since we have an outreach program specifically targeting young women and students of color living in low income communities, the BioMobileLab provides these students a viable way of pursuing science in cases where other opportunities are lacking. Finding and encouraging young scientists is part of SSWs basic mission and the BioMobileLab has helped SSW succeed far beyond what was originally expected.
DifficultyWhat were the most important obstacles that had to be overcome in order for your work to be successful? Technical problems? Resources? Expertise? Organizational problems?
The BioMobileLab project was developed over three years. Although there are a handful other mobile science labs in the nation, these mobile labs tend to have a small number of stock workshops and no ability for students to do original research. Almost all of the other mobile labs are sponsored by large universities or museums. The Schmahl Science BioMobileLab was designed from the ground up to support student research projects as well as being able to support 100 different bio-tech and bio-chem workshops each based upon California State Science Standards. The original idea was having a large bus designed and built. Because of the scope of the design, the project cost approximated $500,000. At the time, the cost was nearly as much as the entire yearly budget of A Schmahl Science Workshop. In reality, the project as envisioned exceeded the organizational capacity of SSW. With the addition of a Director of Organizational Development with thirty years of experience, the concept was modified. Because of the mild weather enjoyed in the San Francisco Bay Area, instead of a custom built 54-foot bus that housed students inside, the concept changed to converting the largest Sprinter cargo van into a combined indoor/outdoor lab. He designed an interior lab bench and equipment storage areas, an awning that extended to form an outdoor instructional area, three side windows that flipped up to allow scientists and students to work together, sound system, and a large 42 monitor that enabled the work on the lab bench or microscopic investigations to easily be seen by everyone. The van and the physical conversion cost nearly $80,000. The remaining costs were hi-tech equipment and materials. Scientists from SSW and Agilent developed specifications for the hi-tech equipment including: Gas Chromatograph (GC) Liquid Chromatograph (LC) UV Visable Spectrophotometer The Thermal Cycler (also known as a PCR Machine or DNA Amplifier) DNA Horizontal Electrophoresis Apparatus Protein Vertical Electrophoresis Apparatus PhotoDoc Imaging System Centrifuges Microscopes Lap-top computers Incubators In developing the specifications several factors were prominent including: ruggedness portability size multiple use Agilent, Juniper Networks, Genentech, Amgen, and others provided equipment or funds to purchase equipment and materials. When the Agilent/SSW team assembled to install equipment, numerous small challenges had to be overcome including: custom creating storage containers for each piece of equipment that would absorb the rigors of constant travel movement easibility of setting up each piece of equipment securing larger hi-tech equipment in ways that would absorb travel movement When two pieces of equipment arrived and they were the wrong size and not what was ordered, a frustrating month-long delay resulted. After everything was installed, three months of field trials took place. During this time, practical day-to-day challenges were noted. An additional battery was added to support the 12 volt lab system, an additional electrical circuit and breaker were added, equipment storage was revamped, and tilt-up window leaks were solved. Now that the BioMobileLab has had two years on the road, we have learned many things. Little bugs and glitches have been worked out and minor modifications to the BioMobileLab continue to be made. SSW staff has been pleasantly surprised at how well the basic design has workedthey think that is a direct result of the extensive discussions, planning and team effort that went into the project ahead of time. Instead of $500,000 for a mobile lab bus, the cost for the BioMobileLab was $200,000.
Often the most innovative projects encounter the greatest resistance when they are originally proposed. If you had to fight for approval or funding, please provide a summary of the objections you faced and how you overcame them.
Although there are several major universities across the nation with mobile lab outreach programs, the SSW model is to provide a fully operation lab in which students can do 100 different investigations and young scientists can develop needed skills and do scientific research. The SSW model is different! The support of the Agilent Corporation was instrumental in moving the BioMobileLab concept from an outrageous idea to a doable project. Most corporate and private foundations do not fund capital equipment. However, Agilent believed in the project so much, they funded $100,000 of the project. With that kind of commitment, Genentech, Juniper Networks, Rotary and other funders came forward to complete the funding. It was critical to have a major funder that lent creditability to both the idea and its practical application. Other obstacles were minimal because the BioMobileLab concept had been developed, redesigned, and refined over three years by a collaborative team with excellent and focused leadership. The height of success came in an event in which the instructors owned the BioMobileLab and the members of development team were able to smile, step back, and relinquish ownership of the project. The director of organizational development, Meril Smith, said, The experience was uniquely satisfying and made me very proud to be a part of A Schmahl Science Workshop.
SuccessHas your project achieved or exceeded its goals?
Is it fully operational? Yes
How do you see your project's innovation benefiting other applications, organizations, or global communities?
Thirty-one of 62 students, using the BioMobileLab as a part of the Advanced Student Research, receiving awards in 2008 at the Synopsys Science Fair is quite an accomplishment. These young scientists are learning and using important research skills. As noted by examples in a previous section, ASRP students have conducted amazing research that have the potential of impacting medicine and public health. ASRP students also inspire classmates at their schools to look at science as being cool and a viable career option. Many of the young scientists in the ASRP are supported the scholarships provided a variety of Silicon Valley funders including Noyce, Juniper Networks, and Genentech. Today, A Schmahl Science Workshops growth from 5,400 students in 2004 to 22,000 in 2008, is success by any measurement. SSW now provides pre-K through 12th grade hands-on science workshops to 22,000 youngsters to 114 schools in 24 school districts. Since SSW sees the same youngsters about 20 times a yearthat translates to over 400,000 student contact hours. Thats another measure of success. As a result the Robert Noyce and the S.D. Bechtel Foundations are supporting an effort by the leadership of A Schmahl Science Workshop to finalize a complete replication plan that can be used across California with potential applications across the United States. Belinda Lowe-Schmahl said, The goal is to have a replication plan finished and a prototype replication project started by 2012. Schmahl Science continues to seek corporate and foundation partners in bring hands-on science to more and more students. Interested parties are encouraged to come for a visit and see actual workshops and check out the SSW website, www.schmahlscience.org.
How quickly has your targeted audience of users embraced your innovation? Or, how rapidly do you predict they will?
The demand for hands-on workshops from A Schmahl Science Workshop continues to grow at a rapid ratefrom 5,400 students in 2004 to 22,000 students and from a few schools to 114 schools in 24 school districts in 2008. A Schmahl Science Workshop started in Santa Clara County and now works with schools in three Bay Area counties. Perhaps the fact that Schmahl Science employs scientists as instructors, trains them to work effective with youngsters, and completely provides all equipment and materials are reasons for the increasing demand for their workshops. Since all workshops are based on California Science Standards and support school efforts to provide a quality science program, A Schmahl Science Workshop is likely to continue to grow despite the current economy. Corporations, foundations, PTAs and individuals are all stepping up to provide workshops in this time of financial hardship. Helping Schmahl Science provide reduced fee workshops to the most needy schools include Juniper Networks, Cisco, Electronic Arts, Spansion, Amgen, Xilinx, Flextronics, Intero, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. To these supporters, creating the next generation of scientists in Silicon Valley is simply too important.
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