The Citizen Science Lab
In January 2015, Duquesne University and Urban Innovation21 partnered to create The Citizen Science Lab (CSL) located in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA. The Citizen Science Lab provides a site for hands-on life science, biomedical, robotic and biotechnology education for students, teachers, biomedical startups, and adult citizens of the Pittsburgh region. The CSL mission statement is “The Citizen Science Lab is a hands-on laboratory where inquisitive minds and science-enthusiasts can explore the life sciences. We are open to everyone to observe and analyze through discovery-based learning and STEM enrichment.” Our programming has a focus on increasing underserved students’ interest in STEM but is available to all citizens of Pittsburgh.
The emerging discipline of biological engineering lies at the interfaces of biological sciences, engineering sciences, mathematics, and computational sciences. Biological engineering applies biological systems to enhance the quality and diversity of life. The 21st century presents global challenges in the environment, resources, energy, health, and sustainability. The CSL exists to support the community of future minority scientists and engineers as they address community issues through biological systems analysis and design.
The CSL has its own incubators, biosafety hood, electrophoresis equipment, thermal cycler, compound and epifluorescent microscopes, dissecting scopes, incubators, gel documentation system, autoclaves, spectrophotometer, genetic sequencer, and much more. Our laboratory is the perfect setting for hands-on STEM and STEAM projects. The CSL is the first and only public laboratory in the Pittsburgh region and understands the value of competitive STEAM activities such as science fairs and science competitions. Therefore, The CSL is perfect to serve as a workspace for the population to prepare life science exhibits and presentations for these competitions.
CSL programimng was launched in January 2015 for grades 3–12. Since our first weekend workshop on January 17 of that year, we have planned over 90 workshops and events at the lab alone. Our proposal initially set out to serve 260 participants in year one and increase the number to 300 students during year two and beyond. Through our programming, we have served over 1,800 students from communities including the Hill District, Homewood, The North Side, Penn Hills, Peters Township, and Upper St. Clair. We have had many of those students return for more than one session; in addition, 40% of our total participants have been awarded scholarships to attend our programming.
The CSL has been an official partner for Pittsburgh Public Schools out-of-school program since 2015. We have support into the homeschool community by providing weekly homeschool workshops throughout the year.
The CSL concentrates its efforts on sparking community interest in STEM through the creation of projects that are relevant and provide opportunities to prototype and emphasize the importance life sciences career choices. We are the only public life sciences lab in the region and this makes us a highly desirable commodity. Our lab provides the community with the hands-on experience that has been shown to change youth interest and career goals.
The CSL also provides opportunities for local graduate and undergraduate students by hiring them as part-time employees. As part-time employees, the students vet and verify experimental procedures, manage the lab inventory and supplies, create new content, and mentor the students that attend CSL programming. Our program provides those students with real-life skills and an arsenal of lab techniques that produce experienced members ready to enter the life sciences workforce. Many of our part-time employees have not personally experienced the disparities in our education system, particularly in communities like Homewood. Working in our program provides the added benefit of becoming mentors to students with whom they otherwise would never interact.