Campus: Cal Poly Pomona -- October 10, 2002
Faculty Research and Industry Support Lead to
Opening of BioTrek, a Multi-Centered Learning Environment
A decade ago, professor Chris George and graduate student Chris Brady
started a rainforest simulation as part of a biology course at Cal Poly
Pomona. They used a humidifier to promote a “cloud forest”
atmosphere, a sleep-inducing mechanism to mimic a background waterfall
and a tape player to simulate animal sounds of the rainforest. Mike
Brown, a botany technician, brought in and nurtured the flora, Brady
contributed taxidermy specimens and George brought in insects she had
collected on various trips to indigenous rainforests.
Within months, thanks to the visits of students and word-of-mouth, this
“closet” rainforest became so popular that it was relocated
to the roof of Building 8, where it expanded and became more permanent.
It hasn’t stopped growing yet.
Cal Poly Pomona recently unveiled its Rain Bird BioTrek Project, the
next incarnation of that highly successful seed project. BioTrek has
grown far beyond its humble beginnings as a pet project stuffed in a
tiny prep room. It now encompasses more than 25,000 square feet of learning
space, and is expected to provide more than 10,000 students and visitors
per year with the opportunity to learn the importance of environmental
conservation and how the future is linked to present conservation efforts
through an integrated, interactive learning and research process.
BioTrek includes three learning centers––a rainforest simulation,
aquatic biology center and ethnobotany garden––devoted to
teaching science curriculum as well as developing a tangible relationship
between visitors and the rainforest environment. BioTrek is dedicated
to learning on all levels, from visiting K-12 classes, to undergraduate
courses, to graduate and faculty research projects.
The gift that made BioTrek possible came from the Rain Bird Corp., the
leading manufacturer of irrigation equipment. It has long been involved
in the efforts of the Science IMPACT program at Cal Poly Pomona to improve
and enhance teaching methodology in the sciences in grades K-12.
A new freestanding greenhouse has been constructed to house the Rain
Bird Rainforest Learning Center, featuring Asian, Australian, African
and American rainforest exhibits that tie into research by faculty,
such as George and Curtis Clark. The rainforest environment includes
permanent living plants and insects, plus some fauna that will be brought
in on an as-needed basis to demonstrate plant-animal relationships.
The Rain Bird Aquatic Biology Learning Center, which is still under
construction, will display professor Jonathan Baskin’s research
on fish in fresh water, salt water and mixed environments. Among its
notable features are a tank with a tide that rises and falls and a river
simulation with adjustable water speeds to test the rapidity different
fish species prefer.
The Rain Bird Ethnobotany Learning Center, which emphasizes the historical
and ongoing relationship of people and plants, boasts 190 plant species
carefully arranged to reflect different environments.
“The point of BioTrek is to stress to students of all ages the
importance of biodiversity,” said George, who also writes and
develops curriculum for the project. “It’s so important
for young people to understand the implications of a global ecosystem––that
our future is dependent upon our conservation efforts now. It’s
very difficult to make that seem real to kids who’ve never seen
anything like a rainforest environment, except maybe on television,
and who may never have the opportunity to travel to one. They think,
‘what does this have to do with me? I don’t live anywhere
near the rainforest.’ What Bio Trek can do is make those abstract
ideas concrete. When kids hike through and see the insects and other
animals, epiphytes and other plants, ideas like species diversity, mutualism
and carbon sequestration become real.”
Teachers from area schools can visit the rainforest with their students,
and are given take-home projects to extend the experience, as well as
access to an interactive, education-based website at www.rainbird.com.
Visitors are divided into groups to look at various aspects of the ecosystem,
including medicines, plant/animal interactions, aquatic biology, biodiversity,
and threatened or endangered species.