In 1995, Biogen broke ground on a site in RTP that was envisioned as a manufacturing site for biologic drugs at a time when “biomanufacturing” was largely an unknown term in the Triangle. Twenty-two years later, Biogen is the largest biotech company in the state with 1,300 employees across two RTP campuses supporting the company’s work in making progress against neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and ALS – and helping to inspire the next generation of science leaders.
Most weekday mornings, you’ll see a school bus parked in front of Biogen’s main entrance in RTP. Students, mostly from Durham and Wake County schools, file through the company’s front doors along with Biogen employees beginning their day, and make their way down the hall to the Community Lab.
In the Community Lab, students get to be scientists as they work with Biogen employees to do business-relevant science experiments with the same state-of-the-art equipment that Biogen employees use every day in their work.
Lab manager Dr. Amanda Marvelle worked with teachers from Durham and Wake Counties to develop lab activities that answer the constant question teachers hear from students, “When will we ever use this?”
Not only are the Community Lab activities linked to grade-specific learning objectives, they also involve students in the same scientific processes that Biogen employees conduct to make the company’s Multiple Sclerosis therapies as well as investigational drugs for clinical trials.
Biogen’s first Community Lab in Cambridge, MA, is the longest-running hands-on corporate science lab in the nation, serving as the model in providing access to hands-on science education for a growing number of similar initiatives in the biotech community. Three years ago, Biogen launched the RTP Community Lab – with great success.
Since opening in 2014, some 3,700 public school students have worked in the RTP lab and hundreds of teachers have received professional development through the lab’s programming.
The goal is to help middle and high school students experience that science is fun, science is for everyone and that they can make a difference in the world through science.
And, by meeting a wide range of Biogen employees during their lab visits, the company hopes to help students realize that there are a host of careers working in STEM fields and biotech companies, right here in the Durham area.
After working in the lab, more than 80 percent of students agree with the statement, “I could be a scientist,” which contributes to a bright outlook for biotech in our community.