Educational Exchange - November 2010

Promoting Science through Project BioEyes

By Nora Zietz

If your child attends one of about 38 public schools or a handful of lucky private schools in the Baltimore area, there is a good chance he or she can tell you why it makes evolutionary sense for a female zebrafish to lay 200 to 600 eggs a week.| In fact, your youngster may have already told you more about the zebrafish and its genetic code, stem cell biology, and the impact of the environment on living organisms than you can remember from your own school days.
If this sounds familiar, your child must have participated in Project BioEYES, a nonprofit science education program based locally out of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington. During the course of five days, students who take part in Project BioEYES peer into high-powered microscopes to watch dozens of embryos morph into larvae and full-blown fish, clean the water the embryos live in, and keep daily records of their observations.
According to its website, the mission of this program for grades kindergarten through 12 is all about “exciting children to the thrill of scientific discovery.”
Apparently it's working. Margaret, a student at Russell Knight Elementary School, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, even followed up her experience with a note to the BioEYES educators, writing, “Hope being a scientist is not boring because I want to be one.”

What Is Project BioEYES?
The idea for Project BioEYES started eight years ago on a Take Your Children to Work Day in Dr. Steven Farber's lab at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia where Farber, a biologist who studies vertebrates, was studying zebrafish.
Zebrafish, a tropical freshwater fish belonging to the minnow family, are often used in experimental models for biological studies. They are especially useful in the study of the human body because about 80 percent of the human genome and the zebrafish genome share the same traits. Also, zebrafish embryos are transparent, making it possible to observe everything in them, from their little beating hearts to their tiny backbones.
This wondrous transparency did not escape the attention of the children who visited Fraber’s lab that day. Through microscopes, he introduced them to the living fish larvae as well as to the basics of developmental biology.
Struck by their interest, Farber was inspired to take the zebrafish to his children’s school. In the meantime, groups of schoolchildren also began to visit his lab regularly at the university.
It wasn’t long before the increasing demand meant Farber needed more support. That’s when, at his request, Thomas Jefferson University hired a full-time science educator, and Project BioEYES was born.
The program continued to grow when, in 2004, Farber moved to Baltimore and began working for the Carnegie Institution for Science. Bringing a staff of engaging outreach educators into the fold, Farber expanded Project BioEYES to serve schools in Baltimore (as well as in South Bend, Ind., through the University of Notre Dame). The program visits local schools for free, with its overhead now covered by the Carnegie Institution for Science, and its ongoing expenses supported locally by such foundations as the Baltimore Community Foundation, the Abell Foundation, and the Hoffberger Foundation, as well as by corporations such as Northrop Grumman.
Today, a total of about 30,000 students have been introduced to the intricacies of embryology through BioEYES educators—including 5,300 fifth, seventh, and tenth graders in the Baltimore region alone. The team is determined to take the program to thousands more students worldwide and took its first step in that direction in August, when it agreed to a partnership with Monash University and the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute in Melbourne, Australia.
Judging by the enthusiastic reaction of the students it has already served, the program has been successful in kindling a love for science that a typical public school curriculum might otherwise not be able to achieve on its own, due to severe budget constraints.
In fact, for some students, the BioEYES experience has been life-changing, as Farber learned on a recent visit to Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. While at the Baltimore City public high school, he was hailed by a young voice: “Dr. Farber! You taught at my school!”
Turns out, two years earlier, Farber had taken Project BioEYES to the student's middle school. The program inspired the youth to want to become a scientist, and he subsequently applied to and was accepted at Poly, as it is commonly known, a magnet school that offers a curriculum emphasizing science and engineering. A real-life success story in this biologist’s eyes. BC

For BioEYES
If you are interested in having Project BioEYES visit your child's school, Dr. Steven Farber, creator of the free program, suggests submitting a request to your school’s parent-teacher association.
In addition, according to Valerie Butler, outreach educator for BioEYES, “With the generous support of foundations, corporations, and individuals, BioEYES is able to offer its programs for free to Baltimore City Public Schools. However, the program is not free for all schools in the area. Your support can help BioEYES deliver its curriculum to additional schools.”
To learn more about BioEYES, visit its website, www.bioeyes.org.

© Baltimore’s Child Inc. November 2010