Ellen Potter, founder of Salk's Mobile Science Lab, received the 2009 Partnership Award by the San Diego Science Alliance in May in recognition for her "exceptional efforts to enhance K-12 science education in San Diego County."
A neurobiologist and coordinator of the Institute's education outreach program, Potter launched the Mobile Science Lab in 1996 in conjunction with the San Diego County Office of Education. Since then, the Mobile Lab has developed to fill the need for state-of-the-art laboratory activities at the middle school level.
Each year, Potter and Education Specialist Dona Mapston load up a van and visit 18 schools in the San Diego region along with volunteer graduate and postdoctoral students who teach DNA structure and techniques used for DNA fingerprinting. They also assist the younger students in performing various experiments such as extracting DNA from wheat germ.
In the last decade the privately funded program has reached more than 20,000 students. Potter and Mapston have also forged partnerships between the Mobile Science lab and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla and the San Diego Science Festival to take the program beyond the classrooms and into the community.
"The strength of this program lies in the opportunity for young students to interact with researchers on a one-on-one basis," Potter says. "Without support from the Salk faculty, administration and wonderful volunteers, the Salk Mobile Lab would never have been able to last this long or continue to excite students in the joys of science. We are truly grateful to everyone for their support."