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. Currently, CityLab does not have access to laboratory facilities to serve students and teachers during the academic year. However, our summer program is still fully operational as is our after school Scholars program.  We are hoping to secure laboratory space in the future to resume working with teachers and students during the academic year.

Teachers from across Massachusetts and neighboring states have brought their students to CityLab where they solved problems by applying the same techniques and concepts of genetics and molecular biology used in research laboratories today. Each topic was presented in a mystery format. Some popular investigations included:

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)

 CityLab developed a curriculum entitled Alcohol Education for Youth: A Laboratory-Based Experience, in collaboration with the BU School of Public Health and support from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  The curriculum, accessible online, explores the effects of alcohol on risk behavior, the biochemistry of alcohol dehydrogenase to break down alcohol, and the rate-limiting effect of the enzyme on blood alcohol levels. 

From 1992 until 2012, more than 70,000 students participated in hands-on, discovery-oriented investigations and 2000 teachers attended workshops at CityLab or aboard the MobileLab. Approximately 30% of students were minority, and 54% of participating students were 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, were 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. 

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.