About CityLab at Boston University School of Medicine

In 1991, Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) pioneered an innovative, science education outreach program that has been disseminated across the country. CityLab is a biotechnology learning laboratory at BUSM serving students and teachers in grants 7-12.

CityLab’s mission is to provide access to state-of-the-art biotechnology laboratory facilities and curriculum, unavailable to most school systems. Teachers from Massachusetts and neighboring states bring their students to CityLab where they solve problems by applying the same techniques and concepts of genetics and molecular biology used in research laboratories today. Each topic is presented in a mystery format. Some popular investigations include:


Mystery of the Crooked Cell (hemoglobin electrophoresis)

Case of the Crown Jewels (DNA restriction analysis)

Medicine in the New Millenium (bacterial transformation)

In Search of the Body’s Antibodies  (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay)

Crucial Concentration  (Lowry Assay)


Since 1992, more than 70,000 students have participated in hands-on, discovery-oriented investigations and 2000 teachers have attended workshops at CityLab or aboard the MobileLab. Approximately 24% of students are minority, and 54% of participating students are female. CityLab curriculum supplements have been adopted for use by museums, schools and enrichment programs nationwide. In addition, the CityLab model, a centralized learning laboratory, has been replicated at the following institutions:


Bridgewater State College, Bridgewater, Massachusetts

Beaver Country Day School, Newton, Massachusetts

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina (three sites)

Washington State University, Spokane, Washington

University of California at Los Angeles, California


In 1998, BUSM once again took the lead in pre-college biotechnology education with the inception of the MobileLab. The MobileLab is a forty-foot, fully equipped traveling laboratory. It can accommodate multiple classes per day to better serve the needs of the classroom teacher. The MobileLab serves a variety of groups such as after school programs, industry, community groups, professional conferences as well as middle schools and high schools. A significant benefit of the mobile laboratory concept is the equal opportunity it provides to diverse, often underserved, student populations.

CityLab has been instrumental in the development of mobile laboratory programs at other institutions. Successful mobile laboratory programs, modeled on BUSM’s MobileLab, have been established at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Connecticut Unites for Research Excellence (CURE), and MDBio. The University of Texas Pan-Am currently has a mobile laboratory under construction. CityLab has spearheaded a MobileLab Coalition designed to disseminate the mobile laboratory concept nationally. The Coalition includes representatives from the institutions mentioned above and continually receives inquiries from institutions such as the Fred Hutchinson Research Center, Seattle, WA; the Bay Area Biotechnology Education Consortium, Palo Alto, CA; the Greenwood Genetic Center, Greenwood, SC; the University of South Dakota, Brookings, SD; the University of Washington, Seattle, WA; the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM; and Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.

Additional Programs Include:

SummerLab: a week-long summer program for students in grades 10 – 12. It offers the opportunity to design and carry out investigations in biotechnology.

CityLab Scholars: Students who have completed the SummerLab program are invited to deepen their understanding of biotechnology during monthly after school sessions.

CityLab Summer Apprenticeship: Selected Scholars work in the CityLab laboratory at Boston University School of Medicine.