South Dakota students soon will have access to advanced research equipment used by professional scientists: State officials are readying two mobile labs that will travel the state through an innovative program designed to spark students’ interest in science and technology.

The 53-foot semi-trailers hold advanced science equipment for student experiments related to the environment, human body, biotechnology, scientific measurements, light, and energy.

The traveling labs will be available to schools at no cost. Money from the state Future Fund, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and private dollars will pay for the Science on the Move program, state officials said.

The cost of building the vans was $600,000, largely because state prison inmates did much of the work. Gov. Bill Janklow said none of the money for the science vans will come from dollars that fund elementary and secondary education in South Dakota.

“I think the more exposure students have with advanced science [the greater their interest will be] in continuing their scientific studies,” said Jerry Opbroek, Science on the Move coordinator.

Opbroek, a retired science teacher, said he and other teachers examined the state’s math and science standards to try to match some of what the students would do in the lab with those requirements.

The van will begin visiting schools early in 2003. Some of the equipment hasn’t been delivered, and Opbroek said he wants to do some test runs before he goes on the road.

He estimates the trucks will spend at least two days and up to a week at each school they visit. Ideally, students from several classes will use the experiments while the truck is at each school.

The idea of the mobile labs stemmed from a meeting 18 months ago between Janklow and Jerry Luetzow, a Brookings, S.D., physicist and businessman, who told the governor the state could no longer afford not to generate an interest in science.

In discussions with educators, scientists, and politicians, the governor decided the best way to spark that interest was to offer hands-on instruction with a touring lab, Opbroek said.