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Duquesne Helping to Establish Pittsburgh's First Community Biotech Lab Space

Duquesne University and Urban Innovation 21, supported by $550,000 in external grants, will establish Pittsburgh's first community biotechnology laboratory space.

The facility, with approximately 1,500 square feet of biotechnology work space, will be open to middle and high school students as well as to adults, college students and small businesses, said Dr. Alan W. Seadler, associate academic vice president for research and technology at Duquesne. The biomedical-biotechnology facility will serve a wide slice of the community, operating as a hybrid of schools-only labs for education similar to those in Boston and Bakersfield, Calif., and the TechShop in East Liberty, which rents its high-tech equipment to small businesses and other community members.

"No biotechnology space is available for use by high school educators and their students outside of what is accessible within their school system, and the university lab spaces which might be used are always in high demand by professors and their students," Seadler said. "This lab will provide educational and community outreach, in keeping with Duquesne's strategic plan, particularly for urban students whose schools might not have these capabilities. It also will give startup biomedical companies access to research-grade instruments."

These labs and the wide-ranging access to them are a grand slam for education, innovation and economic prospects, said William Generett Jr., Urban Innovation 21's president and CEO. "The maker lab will not only be a tremendous benefit for students and adults in some of our region's poorest communities but also will provide small life science startups with the equipment they need to make their businesses more competitive," he said. "Duquesne brings great experience in running educational labs and translating research to the marketplace. The maker lab will be a big win for everyone."

The lab, which will have its own director, is anticipated to serve:

  • Middle and high schools: Through age-appropriate, inquiry based learning modules, available to urban middle and high school students and teachers at no charge. Research shows that out-of-classroom, hands-on activities are particularly successful in encouraging urban and minority students to consider STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects for careers.
  • Adult learners: A structured environment will encourage adult amateur biologists, parent-student groups and the larger community to explore biotechnology, as well as provide adult-oriented activities and events.
  • Startups and small businesses: Microscopes, DNA sequencing systems, centrifuges, purification equipment and other equipment for systems biology, analytical methods and limited plant and animal cell culture may be rented by startups or used through a membership fee.
  • Workforce development: Graduate students and student entrepreneurs can use the laboratory as a biotech sandbox to develop new technologies or refine processes, working under the supervision of their faculty mentors. Student employment and internship opportunities will be available.

Before using the wet lab, users would be trained on safety, material hazards, lab processes and instrumentation. These educational programs will teach new techniques and how to use them safely and efficiently.

Partners serving on the biotech lab's advisory panel include: ASSET STEM Education, Carlow University, Community College of Allegheny County, Carnegie Science Center, Duquesne University's School of Education, Penn State Center Pittsburgh, ThermoFisher and UPMC.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.