Pittsburgh Gets Real

Citizen Science Lab share plans for their new headquarters at MLK Center in Hill District

PITTSBURGH — For more than 15 years, the MLK Reading and Cultural Center in the Hill District has sat empty. The building on Herron Avenue once was a thriving center of learning. But now, what was old is being repurposed into something new.

The Citizen Science Lab gives K-12 students who come from underserved and marginalized Pittsburgh neighborhoods access to top-notch science resources.

“These experiences are what really changes a kid’s mindset. A kid can’t really dream about being something unless they have seen it as some point,” said Andre Samuel, Ph.D., Founder, President, and CEO of the Citizen Science Lab.

The non-profit has been working out of a South Hills location but plans to expand. They’re acquiring the MLK Center to make it into their new headquarters.

The new center will be modeled after their existing space with each room named after a prominent African American scientist.

For example, there’s a Charles Drew room. Dr. Drew was a renowned surgeon, known as “The Father of the Blood Bank.”

“We have a genetic sequencer so we can do our own DNA ancestry,” said Samuel.

Projects also include learning about 3D printing of tissues and organs.

“With the bioprinter, they can then bio-print living body parts such as arteries and bicuspid heart valves. That’s one of our favorites,” said Samuel.

Students are also working on underwater robots. Twice, the Citizen Science Lab teams have qualified for internationals in the Seaperch competition, an invitation-only competition of underwater robotics.

Being headquartered in the MLK building in the Hill will allow the Citizen Science Lab to be right in the heart of the community they serve.

“The MLK space is so important to us because of the history behind it. His ‘I Have a Dream’ speech directly spoke about economic mobility and how our place in science can help with that economic mobility,” said Samuel.

A place where kids can dream, imagine and see themselves as scientists from the moment they walk into the door.

The Science Lab has received a $100,000 grant from the Buhl Foundation. But they are still asking for community donations to help pay for the $5 million project.

They hope to have a groundbreaking this June and to open in January of next year.

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