Unless you're attending a university, most Pittsburghers do not have access to microscopes, pipettes, and other high-end scientific equipment — but a new lab opening this fall aims to change that.
Duquesne University and entrepreneurial group Urban Innovation 21 are constructing Pittsburgh’s first community biotechnology laboratory.
“This is really going to be a place where folks can get a chance to really take a hands-on approach to learning about science and utilizing equipment that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford or get access to,” said Bill Generett, Urban Innovation 21’s president and CEO.
Alan Seadler, Duquesne University associate provost for research, said there are already opportunities for students to learn about engineering and robotics, but the lab aims to extend that to the life sciences.
“It is targeted to students who attend schools that might not have a really robust science program,” Generett said. “But then also, there will be some state of the art equipment that some small life science companies will be able to use also, so you really have a couple different constituencies that this is working to serve.”
According to Seadler, the 1,500 square foot lab in the lower Hill District will provide pre-planned experiments for students as well as give teachers the ability to create activities relating to their own classroom work.
“What you will see in there is the type of activities that you would normally find in a life sciences laboratory,” Seadler said. “Ability to do…sterile work with cells, the ability to do microscopy and look at very small things, the ability to do genetics and genetic sequencing,” Seadler said.
The over arching goal is to encourage Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning amongst underserved students.
“One of the things that we’ve seen is that there aren’t a lot of good jobs out there in general, but when you look at STEM related fields and careers, there are good jobs,” Generett said. “Also, one of our goals is to work with others to help connect the dots.”
Seadler said they also want to add art into that mix.
“Because there’s a very good opportunity to integrate arts and some science in engineering activities, which makes it more visual and makes it much more interesting to students,” Seadler said. “And so that is a component we’re also working on.”
For example, Seadler said one of the activities gives students the opportunity to cut and separate their own DNA, take a picture of it and put it on the front of a t-shirt.
The lab will be located in the Connelley Energy Innovation Center on Bedford Avenue.