AMESBURY — It looked like a typical Friday at Amesbury High School; a line of groggy students stood in the drizzling rain, slowly getting onto a bus, itching for the weekend.
But this bus wasn't yellow, nor was it transporting the students anywhere.
Rather, it was the Boston University MobileLab, a 40-foot mobile biomedical lab built in a BlueBird "concept 2000" bus. The MobileLab travels across the state to more than 40 schools, educating and enriching students grades nine to 12 in the field of biology and biomedicine with hands-on labs.
"It's like the Magic School Bus," said Matt Micari, a Boston University student and one of two science education specialists who travels with the MobileLab.
The MobileLab, which came to AHS Wednesday, was funded by a $10,000 grant supplied by various biomedical companies as well as Boston University.
Wayne Adams, the science department chairman at AHS, said the lab is part of a seven-year relationship with MassBioEd, to which Adams must submit written reports regarding the progress and education of the science department and MobileLab.
The grant also provided equipment for the classroom similar to that on the MobileLab, including an incubator.
"This opens new science techniques to the students," Adams said.
It also opens a door of opportunities to the students, as nearly 80 percent of white-collar jobs in Boston are related to the field of biotechnology, he said.
"There are plenty of jobs out there," Adams said.
In order for the MobileLab to come to a school, up to four teachers must attend four days of training regarding the lab and biotechnology. Although Adams was the only one from AHS to attend the training, he's pushing for more teachers to become involved next year.
The trained teachers at each school are an integral part of the three-day MobileLab visit, as they prepare and educate the students around the technology and subject of biomedicine before and after the MobileLab experience.
"The teachers are like Martha Stewart, and I'm the assistant," Micari said. "I just need to make sure the pie is in the oven and ready."
In addition to the sophomores, AP biology students were scheduled to visit the MobileLab later in the day on Friday to participate in a lab regarding sickle-cell anemia.
Donning plastic safety glasses and bright yellow aprons, 25 sophomores, selected from three separate biology classes, squeezed themselves into the bus and around their work stations. Immediately, curious chatter erupted amongst the students as they inspected the test tubes and petri dishes that surrounded them. Students will also work with bacteria to create insulin, a substance used to treat diabetes.
"Our job is to bring biotechnology to schools," Micari said. "I don't eat genetically modified food, but I teach kids how to do it on a weekly basis."
The bus includes several TVs hooked up to a digital camera so that Micari can give close-up visual demonstrations. The bus is also equipped with the essentials of a biomedical lab, including incubators, centrifuges and several micropipettes.
Micari said the micropipettes, the most basic tool of biomedical science, are small turkey baster-like tools used by biologists to measure millionths of liters. Each student held a micropipettes, practicing first with food coloring and then with the bacteria.
One micropipettes costs $250.
As the fluorescent lights hummed above, the students delicately piped various bacteria and protein into test tubes and petri dishes, careful not to contaminate the dish or consume any of the liquids.
"If you want to have children, don't eat anything," joked Micari.
However, none of the liquids inside the MobileLab are overly hazardous. The bacteria the students work with cannot grow outside of a petri dish.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the MobileLab is that the students get to visualize and experience topics they have been learning about in their biology classes. Each of the students completed a worksheet along with his or her petri dish experiments. The dishes will rest over the weekend at room temperature to allow a culture to grow inside. The students will then inspect the growths on Monday and make their conclusions.
Micari explained that the program is inquiry-based, where the MobileLab educators pose questions to the students and make sure they know "why."
In between piping bacteria into dishes and spinning test tubes in centrifuges, students stood and listened to Micari explaining the science behind the tasks they were performing. The instructor was even able to draw on the cabinets of the bus with a white board marker to aid his instruction.
"Matt really made it interesting and fun to learn about this stuff," said James Pelkey, a sophomore at AHS.
Pelkey, 16, also explained how doing a hands-on lab made the science more fun and enjoyable.
"This made me like biology and science a lot more," said Steve Kligerman, another 16-year-old AHS sophomore. "You're actually doing it."
Both students expressed interest in the MobileLab, saying that they would "definitely" like to do something like it again.
"Schools should really do more stuff like this," Pelkey said. "It would make more kids interested in biology classes."