Bio Lab Opening in Downtown Pittsburgh

Jul 18, 2015

Making mushrooms that glow in the dark?  

A new community lab opened its doors Downtown on Thursday to local students and adults to experiment in biosciences.

“We needed a place where citizens, adults (and) obviously high school students and their teachers could go to be able to experience the life sciences -- biomedicine, which is a hands-on activity,” said Alan Seadler, associate provost for research at Duquesne University and director of its biotechnology program.

Duquesne launched the 1,500-square-foot Citizen Science Lab in January with Urban Innovation21. They've offered weekend programs for students, but this will allow small companies to rent space or equipment to do their own work, Seadler said. 

One of the lab's first experiments created patterns representing genetic sequences from DNA collected on mouth swabs, Seadler said. The pattern was then printed on t-shirts for the students to wear.

The lab can accommodate about 19 people, he said. Rental membership fees run $95 a month, but schools and organizations can rent the space for $50 an hour.

“This offers the populous a chance to be there and actually experience some of life sciences whether or not you become a life scientist or a biotechnologist," he said. "Most people won’t, but you now have a new appreciation for that science and if it stimulates you to go into math or engineering or some other field of technology, so much the better.”

In the past, Seadler said his graduate biotechnology students at Duquesne have benefited from what the lab has to offer.

“There was a real, crying need for a hands-on, experiential life sciences activity for students that could supplement what they’re getting in school, that could supplement what they see at the museums, and then I hope will lead them to going on in some STEM capacity,” he said.

Seadler recommends students be high school age or older to ensure they've learned enough math to understand what’s going on.

Only Class 1 organisms, such as  fungi and bacteria that do not cause disease in healthy adults, will be permitted, Seadler said. So no pathogens, due to the open aspect of the lab.

Grants and contributions of nearly $1 million helped build the lab, create its programming and provide need-based scholarships. Officials also received $300,000 worth of donated equipment, according to Seadler.

Week-long summer camps began the second week of June and will continue through July 24. Adult training begins Aug 17 with a five-day session on the microscopic world of gardening.