CityLab at Boston University

In 1991, Boston University Schools of Medicine (BUSM) and Education (WED) 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 grades 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 across 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. In 1998, BUSM expanded CityLab’s pre-college biotechnology education with the inception of the MobileLab. The MobileLab is a forty-foot, fully equipped traveling laboratory that can accommodate multiple classes per day to better serve the needs of classroom teachers. In addition, 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.

From 1992 until 2019 (pre-COVID), more than 120,000 students participated in hands-on, discovery-oriented investigations and more than 2000 teachers attended workshops at CityLab or aboard the MobileLab. Approximately 30% of students identify as members of underrepresented groups, and 54% of participating students are female.

Curriculum Supplements

The core curriculum supplements are aligned to the Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering curriculum frameworks and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). 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)

Let’s Get Physio! (Exercise Physiology)

Amp Up Your DNA (Polymerase Chain Reaction-PCR)

Risky Business (Biochemistry and Physiology of Alcohol)

CityLab Programs

SummerLab: Week-long summer programs for students entering grades 10 and above in which students 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.

Funding Sources

CityLab’s primary funding sources include the National Institutes of Health (Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), National Science Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and corporate philanthropic gifts (Charles Hayden Foundation, Biogen Idec Foundation, Genzyme Foundation, MassBioEd Foundation, Commonwealth Corporation, Edvotek, and New England BioLabs). Additional support has come from the US Department of Labor, the US Department of Education,  and the Bay State Skills Corporation. 

CityLab Inspired Programs

The CityLab model, consisting of a centralized learning laboratory for students and teachers, has been replicated at

CityLab has been instrumental in the development of mobile laboratory programs at other institutions. Successful mobile laboratory programs, modeled on BUSM’s MobileLab, include:

CityLab is a founding member of the MobileLab Coalition, an international community of traveling and laboratory-based education & outreach programs focused on STEM.

CityLab curriculum supplements have been adopted for use by museums, schools, and enrichment programs nationwide.