Micron bus takes science to the streets

The bus will bring hands-on projects to 20,000 Southwest Idaho kids

broberts@idahostatesman.comMarch 17, 2014 


    Micron's Mobile Discovery Lab bus is taking reservations for next year. If you are interested in the bus coming to your school, contact the Micron Foundation at mtf@micron.com.

    Schools are asked to contribute $500 toward the bus program at their school. The foundation picks up the remaining cost, about $1,500.

Emily Houck gets a jolt out of science education. Literally.

Houck, 9, loves to play with a little machine where she can step up the juice to feel a tingling sensation in her fingers.

"I want to get to 90," she said, as she watched the digital readout showing increasing electrical output from a hand-cranked generator.

Houck was playing with one of several hands-on experiments housed in a 60-foot bus purchased and renovated for $300,000 by the Micron Foundation to bring science to elementary and junior high students beginning this year.

The foundation is working with students to increase interest in science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) education that could lead to better paying jobs in Idaho.

"Maybe they'll end up in a STEM career," said Dee Mooney, foundation executive director.

The foundation has also put up $1.2 million for the University of Idaho to conduct a five-year study on how to get more students involved in STEM.

Micron's Mobile Discovery Lab, a former city transit bus, is one of five running across the state.

The fleet is the brainchild of Lorna Finman, owner of LCF Enterprises, a Post Falls technology business that creates jamming equipment to keep improvised explosive devices from detonating.

She wanted to do more to help children learn about science. She began working with kids and Legos and thought about creating a science center. But she decided money would be better spent in transporting science to students. She created a nonprofit organization called Discover Technology.

The bus is a partnership between the Micron Foundation and Discover Technology.

Finman's first buses began running about two years ago, hoping to "get more students into the STEM pathway," she said.

About eight staff members are usually on each bus. Chad Houck, Emily's father, uses his entrepreneurial and technology background to lead some of the classes.

A tour through the science bus usually starts with a school assembly. Then about 40 students get their turn on the bus before another group is brought in.

Among the projects kids can work on: creating an object with a 3-D printer, using an iPod to move a robotic device, watching ping-pong balls react to vibrations emanating from a speaker, and looking at objects - such as a strand of hair or a bit of cloth - through a supermagnifier.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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