Things to Know About Daphnia

May 27th, 2014

Daphnia are little-known organisms—small crustaceans that reside in fresh bodies of water, such as ponds or lakes. Because of their similar form, their similar twitchy way of moving, and their aqueous niche, they have been nicknamed “Water Fleas.” Despite this epithet, the only other common characteristic Daphnia and fleas have is that they’re both arthropods (a skeletal system on the outside of their bodies). Shrimp are actually the closet “relative” of Daphnia. Daphnia have an almost transparent exoskeleton, providing a remarkable look inside their bodies. Daphnia vary widely and there exist more than 150 different species. Although relatively obscure, these animals are essential parts of the food chain, and for many fish, Daphnia is a main course. Daphnia themselves eat mostly algae and other microorganisms drifting in the water.

One of the most interesting things about Daphnia is their ability to have two separate methods of reproduction. In nice weather, when food is more available, Daphnia will practice parthenogenicity. Parthenogenicity is basically a form of asexual reproduction during which the parent produces one or multiple genetic clones. These offspring are born live, like humans, because the favorable conditions ensure a better chance of survival. Remember, the Daphnia at this time are all female! However, during bad weather, Daphnia will produce some eggs that will turn into males with the help of fertilization. Offspring from sexual reproduction will remain in their eggs in a state of suspend animation, until conditions and, correspondently, chances of survival have improved.

Since Daphnia are nearly transparent, their color is affected

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by physical factors, such as their latest meal or the amount of oxygen in their environment. Their antennae allow them to move while their feet suck in food from their surroundings. A Daphnia’s clear, beating heart is present in the upper left corner of its body, and

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Daphnia only have one eye. A Daphnia’s fascinating body structure offers endless hours of observation, and with a powerful enough microscope, the blood cells moving about its body can be seen.


—Juliana Castrillon

Inspiration is Just as Important as Education

May 26th, 2014

Before I decided to volunteer with BioBus, I waffled back and forth between a career path in the sciences or something a little more humanities oriented. Even in my humanities classes, I have appreciated my strong scientific foundation. The benefits of a scientific education are extensive and often touted by those in the field. Having a certain degree of scientific literacy, or knowledge of scientific facts terms and ideas, can aid a person in making smart choices anywhere from shopping to investing. In addition, practicing scientific analysis promotes important skills such as pattern recognition, identifying inconsistencies, and forming explanations or hypotheses.

If the goal of a scientific education is just to have a well-informed public that exhibits these traits, then teachers do not have to go much further than drilling technical tools and memorizing scientific concepts to achieve the desired result. If, however, the goal of a scientific education is to produce lifelong scientists, then an additional ingredient is needed. Teachers need to inspire their students. A desire to discover, to explore and to ask questions are just as important to the scientific process as actual concepts are. It has been the inspirational tools such as BioBus that were the dominant factors in my decision to pursue science on the collegiate level more than any scientific skill.

Inspiring students to pursue science is not necessarily a simple feat and educators have several obstacles to overcome to do so. There is often a stigma associated with science and math—that they are somehow uncreative or boring. Something I came to realize through my forays into science is that nothing could be further from the truth. Scientific research is always face to face with the unknown and it is their desire to

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explore that causes professional scientists to constantly push the boundaries of their fields. Helping young potential scientists experience the joy of discovery has been the most satisfying part of working with BioBus. My favorite lesson of Daphnia in particular has the ability of making a student’s face light up with delight. Giving kids a positive scientific experience at a young age is the best way to make such a stigma disappear.

BioBus also has the added goal of helping to overcome monetary hurdles by focusing its efforts on schools whose financial situation limits teachers’ resources and ability to provide an inspirational element to their classes. When the cool and shiny equipment is expensive, communal resources are a great way to make them accessible to everyone. Without such opportunities, I know I would have fallen away from science a long time ago. So thank you Dr. Ben, and everyone else involved in science education, for keeping it fresh, interesting and inspiring.


—Tyler Pewarski

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four with 10th graders at Frances Perkins Academy in Brooklyn. We spent the day introducing Daphnia and the microscopes to the students, and for the most part we had a good time. In one of the groups, the students kept punching each other in the testicles and, in another group, half of the students kept complaining that they were a) hungry, b) tired, or c) ready to go home so they could go shopping. I’d like to chalk this up to a combination of halloween weekend and

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In spite of an overall lack of focus, we still reached some of the students. A 16 year old boy, after telling everyone else to stop punching each other in the testicles, jumped at the opportunity to use the microscope, and quickly mastered turning the very delicate stage control knobs. We then made this movie of Daphnia’s heart beating.

IMAGINE: the BioBus on a Boat

June 15th, 2012

The BioBus crew is still finding glitter behind their ears and on their cheeks after last weekend’s art and science explosion at the FIGMENT art festival on Governor’s Island. The BioBus was just one of over 200 participation-driven, hands-on, experimental projects catering to adventurous visitors during this free annual public event.

Flanked by a dance floor and a station with over 300 cardboard boxes for playhouse building, the BioBus provided a unique opportunity for observation, participation, and creation.

Outside the bus, a handheld personal microscope wowed passers-by with images of their eyeballs and arm hairs magnified up to 140 times. Individuals who boarded the bus got to meet our scanning electron microscope and zoom over 1,000 times on a butterfly wing, oo-ing and ahh-ing at its intricate and beautiful structures. In the back

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of the bus, more mobile scientists manned another microscope and let all ages fiddle and take pictures to print out and use in their artwork outside.

With supplies lent by the Lower East Side Girls Club, the BioBus featured a creative tent where participants could use acrylic paint, glitter, fabric, sidewalk chalk, face paint, and more to express themselves. The photographic souvenirs generated with microscopes and printed inside the bus were often used outside the bus as inspiration for colorful, glitterful, wonderful artwork.

One woman remarked, “I love that the outside is covered in crayon pictures. It makes it such a surprise when you come on board and find out that there is serious science going on!” The BioBus got totally decked out as festival participants taped their creations on the starboardside of bus. [This seafarin’ allusion is merely one of many in a recent trend on the BioBus. Putting the bus aboard a boat was definitely

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one of the many triumphs of this past weekend. Please note that as a result of this recent voyage to Governor’s Island, Dr. Ben has begun to refer to himself as “Captain Ben.]

Overall, the BioBus’s first fling at FIGMENT was a veritable creative milieu of maritime magic, inquisitive minds, and as always, magnificent microscopes.

— Li Murphy


Summer Streets with New York Botanical Garden

August 18th, 2011

Things on the BioBus were simply floral during a NYBG street fair on Saturday, August 13, 2011. The fair was held to celebrate Farmers’ Market Week, and it is safe to say that there was a large variety of produce offered by both NYBG stands and the actual farmers’ market. There, the BioBus’ staff (comprised of Dr. Ben, Nikki, Juliana, & Jordan) bought some beautiful bouquets hosting a variety of flowers…most of which were immediately brutalized by one Juliana (an intern at the BioBus) via scalpel. These lovely dissected samples were not wasted though! No, every and each sliver was carefully placed under the BioBus’s stereo microscopes under high magnification. Many children learned about the reproductive aspects of those flowers: where the specific organs are located and how a flower is pollinated. Some even got a short description of a plant’s vascular tissue, by yours truly. All the while, each person was given

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a sheet of paper containing visual aids with labeled arrows to aid them in their search for the plant reproductive organs.

“He’s so amazed; he’s trying to look at every part of the flower,” exclaimed an enthused mother, whose son was preoccupied with a

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onto the bus itself, and there they stayed until the event’s end.

The festival was a great success; as a man on a loud speaker announced, people were caught groaning that they had to leave. That made me snort. It was a long couple of hours that were extremely enjoyable.



—Jordan Sutphen

Retrospective: BioBus at Columbia University

July 31st, 2011

With all of its cool gadgets, bizarre organisms, and with funky paint job, the BioBus has a real knack for showing kids that science is fun. The great part about this message is that it stays true no matter how old we get. Students at Columbia University in Manhattan got to experience this first hand when they hosted a two day BioBus fair this past March. The event was held by the Scientists and Engineers for a Better Society (SEBS) student group, which our very own Dr. Ben helped to found while pursuing his graduate degree at Columbia.

The first day of the fair was geared toward recruiting older students interested in pursuing careers in science to teach on the BioBus. Over thirty willing volunteers, me included, saw the bus before being trained by Dr. Ben. We were instructed on

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how to use the microscopes, prepare the slides, make some videos, and present the material to the eager young minds of tomorrow.

On day two of the event, the student instructors got a chance to put their new skills into action as we opened the bus up to the public. Although the weather was a bit nippy, and the wind had an affinity for blowing our signs over, children from all over the Morningside Heights/Harlem community came out in droves for their turn to visit the bus. We also welcomed special guests the Harlem Restoration Project (Hyperlink: and Columbia Kids (Hyperlink:, which are Columbia-affiliated initiatives that visited the fair. Inside the bus, Dr. Ben and BioBus volunteers presented Daphnia and gave the kids an opportunity to use the various microscopes on board. The kids were particularly fascinated by the handheld microscope that allowed them get a close up view of their skin and clothes. Outside, SEBS members prepared an array of cool scientific experiments that can be made from household materials. Among the crowd favorites were the non-Newtonian liquid, which is a fluid that momentarily turns into a solid when hit with a hammer, or a bouncy ball, and the Diet Coke and Mentos explosions that were spectacularly messy. Both the kids and the volunteers had a great time with the BioBus and SEBS is already getting excited to bring Dr. Ben back as soon as spring rolls around next year!


—Tyler Pewarski

BioBus—I’d Rather Watch Paint Dry

July 31st, 2011

“Clean the dishes? Ha! I’d rather watch paint dry.” That is a line I used to pull on my mom whenever she ‘asked’ me to “clean the dishes”—our least favorite chore. I’m sure that many of you are familiar with this phrase. It is sarcasm at its finest in my opinion, which is why I so often used it. However, whenever I did say it, I never really meant it. Why would I? Obviously, I knew that the blandness of washing my family’s dirty dishes was nothing compared to the boredom I would feel if I sat staring at a wall for a few hours as the

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paint lost its liquid quality. Now, we both knew that that would have been boring, and Mommy Dearest would always call my bluff when she replied, “Then go get some paint from the garage; our living room could use a new coat of white!”

However, recent escapades by the BioBus staff have enlightened me to how interesting drying paint could actually be—at 400 times magnification! Here, in this YouTube video,

Dr. Ben himself describes how paint drying actually works with an amazing close-up sneak peak of thousands of elastic particles scrambling across the screen like crazy! Truthfully, it isn’t what you would expect, and I can now proudly say to my mother, “I’ll go get the paint, then!” You can always trust the BioBus’ staff to make the dullest of things exciting.


—Jordan Sutphen