Maine’s first mobile biolab begins tour of rural schools in Fort Kent

1 month ago

FORT KENT, Maine — Fort Kent middle schoolers are the state’s first students to learn at the newly unveiled Maine Mobile Biolab, a 50-foot, 10-ton mobile lab built on an RV chassis equipped with cutting edge science tools.

The lab arrived on Monday, March 11. It was unveiled during an early afternoon ribbon cutting ceremony attended by staff and about 100 excited middle schoolers. Fort Kent is the first of 12 sites around the state that the mobile school will visit this year.

STEM educators Anna Stehlik and Heather Carlisle will travel around the state with the biolab. Stehlik on Monday demonstrated an activity that simulates the experience of locating and removing an invasive species from an environment. Students will use a UV light and camera connected to a computer to monitor the species, which is represented by beads only visible under UV light.

Through this activity, students will get $1,000 worth of play money. They need to plan a careful budget and determine which tools to purchase to most effectively remove the invasive species.

“Some of these tools are not very useful, so the students have to think about it with their group and bounce ideas off of each other, which is a lot of what science is,” Stehlik said.

Other activities at the lab include a micropipette challenge, where students learn how to use micropipettes to move dyed samples and create the visual spectrum. Another activity includes monitoring how sugar moves through the body and how diabetes can affect this process. This involves using a glucometer and glucose test strips to test simulated plasma samples.

Fort Kent students will attend classes in the lab on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and for half a day on Friday.

The lab was made possible via Portland-based nonprofit Educate Maine, who partnered with Bioscience Association of Maine, Northeastern University’s Roux Institute and Learning Undefeated.

FORT KENT, Maine — March 11, 2024 — STEM Educator Heather Carlisle, left, and Trisha House, state office representative for Senator Collins, are pictured here in the state’s first mobile biolab in Fort Kent. They are doing a micropipette challenge, which will teach students how to use a pipette and other lab equipment. Carlisle and STEM educator Anna Stehlik will travel the state along with the biolab. (Chris Bouchard | St. John Valley Times)

Testimony from these organizations and Maine teachers helped the state Legislature pass LD 1389, An Act to Establish a Mobile Learning Lab.

The bill, passed last summer, provides a total of $400,000 for the lab, with $150,000 being one-time funds for contracted staffing services and the remaining $250,000 funding the mobile lab itself.

Jason Judd, executive director of Educate Maine, said that Sen. Susan Collins was also instrumental in getting $1 million via congressionally-directed spending to develop the lab.

Kate Howell, director of workforce partnerships at Educate Maine, said the lab can fit 24 students at a time. She said the lab is geared toward middle school students.

“That’s a time where we see a drop-off with students,” Howell said. “It’s really the time to catch them and to help them build their science identity and help them understand the opportunity to get excited about science, which really influences the classes they might take in high school.“

For the program’s pilot period this semester, the lab will visit 12 schools across the state for one week. The lab will visit Ashland District School next week and return to Aroostook County to visit Caribou Community School for the week of May 6. A full map of stops for the mobile lab is available online at

“We work with the schools to help build a schedule that works for their students and reaches the maximum number of students that they want to get on board,” she said.

Howell said they work with teachers at each school to develop a curriculum based on what subjects their students are particularly excited about. This helps educators better understand what STEM careers and industries to show their students.

Aileen Huang-Saad, director of life sciences, health, and engineering programs at the Roux Institute, brought the idea of the mobile lab to Judd shortly after relocating for her current position three years ago.

Huang-Saad said she has seen the effectiveness of mobile labs in engaging students in STEM through her experience in other locations. 

“It’s really important for us to meet students where they are, as opposed to always expecting them to come and find us,” she said.

She said Judd was immediately on board with the idea, and they began to work together to make it a reality.

“It was a great synergy, because neither of us could have done this without each other,” Huang-Saad said. “Educate Maine has a very powerful network throughout the state, but they didn’t necessarily have the same access to other networks around the country working in the life sciences space. I have that network, but I certainly don’t have that ability to engage the K-12 system.”

FORT KENT, Maine — March 11, 2024 — Anna Stehlik is one of two educators who will be traveling around the state with Heather Carlisle along with the Maine Mobile Biolab. The mobile lab will go to rural schools across and offer STEM lessons to middle school students. Here, Stehlik demonstrates an activity that simulates locating and removing an invasive species from an environment. (Chris Bouchard | St. John Valley Times)

Deborah Beaulieu, a sixth grade teacher at the school, was instrumental in bringing the lab to the St. John Valley.

Last summer, she said she needed to recertify and attended a science workshop. This is Beaulieu’s 25th year as a teacher, and she said she was curious to learn about new developments in the science field.

She learned about the biolab initiative at a workshop, and was excited about the opportunities it could bring to rural schools.

“As soon as I saw an email come through asking who was interested in having the biolab at their school, I responded immediately,” she said. “And now we’re launching the biolab. I never, ever thought that we would be the launching school.”

Last week, Beaulieu presented to nine different classrooms and explained what the bio lab would be about and when it was coming. In the days leading up to this week, she said students have been asking several questions about the lab.

“They’re super excited about it,” she said. “And it will be exciting to hear their feedback after they’ve been through the program.”

Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, who supported the bill and attended the March 11 ribbon cutting event at Fort Kent Elementary School, said the biolab will help students across the state and in rural towns access STEM education materials.

“It’s not that they don’t teach it, but they don’t have all the equipment,” Jackson said. “We just thought it would be a big thing to have something like this go around and spend a week at schools around the state, and to let kids know that this is out there. This is in Maine, and this could be your career.”