Madison Heights company unveils country’s largest mobile science lab

By: Andy Kozlowski, | Madison - Park News | Published January 25, 2017

MADISON HEIGHTS — A local manufacturer has teamed up with the MdBio Foundation to create what is effectively a science lab on wheels — the largest of its kind in the nation. And soon it will bring hands-on learning to kids across the country.

The MdBio Foundation is a nonprofit group aimed at underserved communities, dedicated to creating interest in life-changing career opportunities through STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). It achieves this through experiential education programs for middle school and high school students, as well as workforce development programs for adults.

The mobile science lab is one way it achieves this. MdBio has provided mobile STEM education for more than a decade, serving over 150,000 middle and high school students since 2003. The MXLab is a major upgrade to the existing mobile laboratory, designed and manufactured with Madison Heights-based Triune Specialty Trailers, located at 950 E. Whitcomb Ave.

The new lab is 53 feet long with double expandable slide-out sides, making it three times larger than the current mobile lab. It also features additional space outside to serve larger audiences. At 1,000 square feet of interior space, it can comfortably accommodate more than 40 students, a class size increase of 20 percent.

The lab features interactive flat-screen video displays, computational equipment and foldaway workstations that feature electricity and water.

In addition to visiting schools, the lab will help promote the STEM fields at community events and provide professional development for educators.

Janeé Pelletier, vice president of communications and events at the MdBio Foundation, said the lab is a way to inspire students with new educational experiences. 

“Our approach to mobile education is to provide an exciting hands-on learning activity that supplements the classroom experience, right in the school parking lot,” Pelletier said in an email. “The lab provides students with access to cutting-edge technologies and techniques not typically available at schools, as well as experience with practical real-world applications in use by today’s scientific and tech communities.

We use a near-peer mentor model, with trained scientist educators that we hope will inspire the students to see themselves in a STEM career.”

The lessons taught in the MXLab, by MdBio’s own educators, can introduce students to MdBio’s curriculum focused in biology, chemistry and environmental science, Pelletier added, or even engage them in new activities like data set modeling, integrated computing, cybersecurity and game-based learning.

The lab will next travel to Maryland, where it will serve about 10,000 students at 35 high schools each year, starting in September 2017. Prior to then, it will host a series of pilot visits and public events throughout the spring.

Harry Kurtz, president of Triune Specialty Trailers, said his company participated in MdBio’s nationwide bid process in search of a company to create the MXLab.

“MdBio had a concept in mind, and then worked with the design team at Triune to engineer all of the details and produce the laboratory,” Kurtz explained in an email.

The bid was awarded last spring. The entire process took nine months from start to finish. Despite the array of advanced technology packed inside, Kurtz said that production went smoothly. And he said the cause made it all worthwhile.

“If we can provide mobile lab facilities and spread the cost out over a large number of schools, we can essentially bring an experience comparable to an out-of-school field trip directly to the students at a much lower cost,” Kurtz said. “The trailer rolling into the school parking lot provides a tremendous ‘wow’ experience for the entire school and community.”