Salk Institute
Education Outreach
Education Outreach

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies supports a broad program of activities aimed at bringing the excitement of science and scientific discovery to the San Diego community. These activities include several efforts in middle school and high school education, with an overall goal of heightening student and teacher enthusiasm for the biological sciences and current research approaches. The components of our educational outreach program include:

Salk Mobile Science Laboratory

The Salk Mobile Science Lab brings current experimental techniques directly into San Diego classrooms. Based on the theme of genetics and DNA technology, a team of Salk scientists leads entire classes of students through three sets of simple and enriching experiments. This type of inquiry-based, exploratory learning is fundamental to increasing student interest in the biological sciences. The Mobile Science Lab visits at least 18 area schools and educational institutions every year, providing over 2200 students with hands-on science experience. In the past ten years, the program has reached more than 20,000 local students.

San Diego County residents often encounter an unusual sight—a van decorated with a fruit fly surfing a wave made of the double helix structure of DNA. The creatively decorated vehicle is the Salk Institute's Mobile Science Laboratory, which teaches students in grades 6 through 8 about DNA and genetics.

Neurobiologist Ellen Potter started the Mobile Lab in 1996. It now travels to more than a dozen schools each year and also participates in community science fairs under the direction of Dona Mapston, Education Specialist. Equipped with three days' worth of science lessons, the lab makes its way around San Diego, visiting a different middle school every two weeks.

On day one, students learn about genes and mutations by studying populations of fruit flies under a microscope. The next day, they extract DNA from wheat germ. "This is usually a 'wow' experience for them," says Potter.

Finally, the students learn how to separate DNA fragments, a key step to identifying genes, using electrical fields in a technique called electrophoresis. There is one exception; instead of DNA, the students experiment with food coloring. Dona Mapston can be contacted at

If you are interested in having the Mobile Science Lab come to your school, please contact Dona Mapston at

Click here for more information on the Salk Mobile Science Laboratory>>


Salk High School Scholars Program

Summer 2015 program June 22-August 14

The flagship of our past education outreach efforts, this program gives high school students the opportunity to do hands-on experimental work in a Salk research lab, supervised by a Salk faculty member. Students work side-by-side with Salk scientists on projects involving today's cutting edge research.

Founded more than 30 years ago, the program helps fulfill Dr. Jonas Salk's vision of providing opportunities for local high school students to experience life in a scientific laboratory, and explore the possibility of a career in science.

Through the eight-week program, students are involved with a full-time research project as well as enrichment activities. Students learn how to formulate and test hypotheses, prepare experiments and draw conclusions from those experiments. They also learn to maintain laboratory notebooks and take part in regular lab meetings and group discussions. At the end of the program, students present their research projects to their mentors, lab members and families.

For more information on this program, contact Dona Mapston, Science Education Specialist with Salk's Education Outreach Program at 858 453-4100 ext. 1954 or

Program Eligibility Requirements:

  • Applicants must be San Diego County residents and have completed their most recent semester of high school at a public or private high school within San Diego County.
  • Applicants must be at least 16 years of age.
  • Applicants must have successfully completed at least one year each of high school level chemistry and biology by the start of the program.
  • Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Applicants must be able to commit to 40 hrs/wk for the duration of the program.
  • Applicants must be able to be responsible for their own transportation.

The Salk Institute Summer Scholars Program is part of the Biocom Life Sciences Summer Institute (LSSI) partnership.

Click here for application information and instructions»

The Salk Institute extends its heartfelt appreciation to Dr. and Mrs. Kenneth B. Heithoff for their generous support of the 2015 High School Scholars Program.

March of Dimes High School Science Day Introduces Students to Research

Saturday February 28, 2015

More than 200 students and teachers from the San Diego region spend a Saturday at the Salk Institute for the annual High School Science Day, a half-day community outreach event designed to get youngsters interested in considering an exciting career in research.

The day's program includes presentations from scientists who share stories of their professional experience, laboratory tours and participation in ongoing laboratory experiments with some of the Salk Institute's world-renowned researchers.

"High School Science Day is always an eye-opening experience for kids from San Diego County, where a world-renown research facility opens the doors to its laboratories to give students a look into the daily life of working scientists," says Ellen Potter, coordinator for Educational Outreach. "Our goal is to inform students of career possibilities in the life sciences and give them the opportunity to ask questions about a field some may not have known previously existed."

Click here to:

The Salk Institute extends its heartfelt appreciation to the late Charlie Robins for his generous support of the 2014 High School Science Day.

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Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Street: 10010 N Torrey Pines Rd
City: La Jolla, CA 92037
Phone: 858.453.4100
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