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NIH Record

MobileLab Takes Science for a Spin

By Lori Mulligan

Photos: Bill Branson

On the Front Page...

NIH staff recently had an opportunity to board the Boston University MobileLab, a 40-foot-long, custom-built, fully equipped biotechnology learning laboratory on wheels during its visit to campus. The MobileLab takes the NCRR-supported CityLab program on location to middle and high schools and to teachers' conferences in New England and beyond. CityLab challenges students to solve problems by applying the same genetics and molecular biology techniques and concepts used in modern biotechnology laboratories.


The seven curriculum modules are presented in mystery formats and offer students a hands-on approach to understanding science. These modules include such topics as sickle cell anemia, population genetics and protein quantitation, and enable students to learn and apply the basic principles of scientific investigation. Since the program began in 1992, more than 17,000 students and teachers have visited CityLab at the Boston University School of Medicine.

Shown here during a recent visit to NIH's Bethesda campus,
the MobileLab transports the NCRR-supported CityLab program.

Now, the MobileLab can travel to schools miles beyond Boston, reach more students, and deliver the same creative CityLab curriculum. Thirteen schools have already reserved the MobileLab for the 1998-1999 school year. The MobileLab has already visited New Market High School and Exeter High School in New Hampshire and Farmington High School in Connecticut.

"The popularity and success of CityLab demanded that we find new ways to incorporate it into the classroom," says Dr. Carl Franzblau, principal investigator of CityLab. "Today's visit gives us a chance to show NIH that the MobileLab is getting more mileage out of this successful NIH-supported program."

The design takes into account specific needs associated with a self-contained molecular biology laboratory. The MobileLab is built on a Bluebird "Concept 2000" chassis with a 210-horsepower diesel engine. The roof has been raised 8 inches for a total interior height of 7 feet. A -20 degrees Celsius freezer and 4 degrees Celsius refrigerator are on board to store perishable supplies, three cabinets double as carts for transporting supplies, and four stabilizers automatically level the bus to keep it steady during use. The MobileLab can accommodate 24 students at a time and, thanks to a remote-controlled camera and video, all students can clearly hear and see what the instructor is doing.

On board MobileLab are (from l) Dr. Carl Franzblau, CityLab principal investigator; Connie Phillips, CityLab director; NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus; NCRR director Dr. Judith Vaitukaitis; Dr. Sidney McNairy, NCRR research infrastructure director; and Don DeRosa, CityLab education coordinator.

NCRR supports both CityLab and MobileLab through the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA). The SEPA program encourages scientists to work with educators and community organizers to develop health-related projects that increase the understanding of basic science among students and the public. Funding for the MobileLab was also provided by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Charles Hayden Foundation, Neighborhood Jobs Trust of the City of Boston, and USTrust.

If you are interested in finding out more about CityLab and MobileLab, visit the CityLab Web site, which can be accessed through the BU medical campus home page at

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