Binghamton University faculty are playing a key role in the development of a community-based DNA Life Science Center to help educate the public on the mysteries of biotechnology, genetic engineering and advances in DNA. The Decker Life Science Learning Center and Ahern Computer Lab opened recently at the Roberson Museum and Science Center. The center couples museum resources with faculty expertise from BU and the Dolan DNA Learning Center at Cold Spring Laboratories on Long Island.
The multi-phased project, with the first phase requiring an already raised $1 million, features a year-round laboratory classroom, a computer lab and an exhibit area throughout 2,700 square feet on the second floor of the museum on Front Street in Binghamton.
University faculty and staff were involved in the early stages of conceptualization, and the programs have developed as a true University-community partnership, said Don Colbert, assistant vice president for technology transfer and economic development, “Participation in such outreach partnership programs is key to fulfilling the University’s service mission to the community,” Colbert said. “Ultimately, a successful positive social impact of University-based research can only be achieved through the sustained development of a scientifically literate human resource capacity.”
More than 30 BU faculty, with a majority from biological sciences, will participate with the center, which will be divided into three areas including a wet laboratory and a computer lab that will explore DNA simulations.
“This will be an opportunity to take research our faculty is doing and present it in a more public way, using methods and displays that excite people about science,” said Ernest Rose, dean of the School of Education and Human Development.
The center calls for students and teachers from throughout the region to use the laboratory to do experiments and complete lessons taught by staff members. Roberson signed an agreement with Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory earlier this year to use curriculum from the Dolan DNA Learning Center, an operating unit of Cold Springs and the world’s first science center devoted entirely to public genetics education.
“The initial space will provide people who visit the Life Science Learning Center with an opportunity to explore human evolution and in addition, leading moments that led to the discovery of DNA,” said Roberson Executive Director James Lee. “We are making great progress.” Students and visitors will have the opportunity to use state-of-the-art equipment including incubators and a DNA sequencer. A separate area will allow participants to view displays on the history of genetics, biotechnology and DNA research.
The staff will use lessons and materials developed by BU faculty and Dolan. Work began last year on the conversion of the space in Roberson, which once housed the museum’s Explorations and Science Exhibit.
The center will require funding for equipment, curriculum and salaries for staff, which will include a full-time lab director, a project coordinator and a program educator. Money will be raised through entrance fees, private fund raising and grants. Other project phases call for the possible development of related facilities at the University. The museum may eventually expand the exhibit area into other gallery space, increasing the center’s size to 3,500 square feet.
The laboratory classroom’s initial programs will be for fifth- through eighth-graders, using materials from the Dolan DNA Learning Center. Plans also call for the development of lessons for elementary and high school students.
The center also plans for staff to visit local schools. The Hoyt Foundation of Binghamton approved a three-year, $60,000 grant to help with education efforts. The center will also offer training for teachers while Roberson will add a life sciences component to after-school programs and summer institutes for students.