The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery – exploring fundamental biology, understanding biodiversity and the environment, and informing the human condition through research and education. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.
The MBL’s oldest and most singular strength is our convening power, attracting the world’s leading scientists and students to Woods Hole. The MBL draws a unique mix of researchers ranging from early-career scientists to Nobel Laureates, and students at levels from high school to postdoctoral. Their interactions have led to multiple, transformative breakthroughs in our understanding of biology. Once largely a feature of summers at the MBL, this convening power is now evident year-round. Well over 500 scientists and faculty are involved annually in our research and educational programs – some based at MBL full-time, some coming to the MBL for portions of the year, and some leading or lecturing in our broad range of research courses.
With a steady flow of students, scientists, and faculty participating in research projects throughout the year, enrolling in one of our research-based courses or thematic workshops, or spending an entire semester here, the special convening power of MBL is making our campus an increasingly vibrant and dynamic location year-round.
MBL Scientists and Staff
The MBL has approximately 250 year-round employees, about half of which are scientists and scientific staff. These are joined each year by more than 500 scientists, summer staff, and research associates from hundreds of institutions around the world, as well as a large number of faculty and students participating in MBL courses (see below).
Among the scientists with a significant affiliation with the MBL (scientists, course faculty and students) are 60 Nobel Prize winners (since 1929); 137 Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators, early career scientists, international researchers, and professors (since 1960); 306 Members of the National Academy of Sciences (since 1960); and 252 Members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (since 1960).
Affiliation with the University of Chicago
The MBL and the University of Chicago formed an affiliation on July 1, 2013, that enhances both institutions’ missions of leadership and innovation in scientific research and education. The affiliation builds on shared values and historical ties between Chicago and the MBL, which was led by University of Chicago faculty members for the first four decades of its existence. The MBL is an independent 501(c)3 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Major Research Areas
Research at the MBL – carried out by full-time MBL faculty as well as hundreds of the world’s leading scientists who are attracted by the MBL’s unique resources and strengths each year – focuses on a number of distinctive themes, including:
- new discoveries emerging from the study of new research organisms, encompassing studies in cell biology, regenerative biology, neuroscience, sensory physiology, and comparative evolution and genomics;
- the study of microbiomes and microbial diversity and ecology in a variety of ocean, organismal, and terrestrial habitats;
- innovation in imaging and computation, illuminating cellular function and previously unknown biology; and
- adaptation and resilience of environmental systems and organisms in the face of global change.
The MBL offers a range of courses, workshops, conferences, and internships throughout the year. Central to the MBL’s identity are its more than 20 advanced, discovery-based research courses. The focus of these world-famous, graduate-level courses ranges from physiology, embryology, neurobiology, and microbiology to imaging and computation integrated with biological research.
Each year, MBL courses attract about 500 of the best students in the world, from (in 2023) 270 institutions and 60 countries. Course directors and faculty are leaders in their fields, drawn from (in 2023) 247 leading universities and research institutions from 22 countries. The courses also benefit from MBL partnerships with many commercial developers and vendors, who bring the very latest technology in advanced imaging and other scientific equipment to the MBL each year.
The MBL also offers research-based educational programs for undergraduates from the University of Chicago and many other institutions, including a Semester in Environmental Science, quarter-long courses, and mentored research internships. The MBL is also rapidly scaling up a high-school program for private and public school students. Like the more advanced courses, all educational programs and research internships at the MBL emphasize immersive, discovery-based learning.
In addition, the MBL hosts dozens of workshops, training courses, and conferences during all seasons of the year—accommodating more than 2,600 participants from around the world.
The Marine Resources Center is an advanced facility for maintaining, culturing, and providing aquatic and marine organisms essential to biological, biomedical, and ecological research. The Genome Editing Core Facility supports researchers who are developing and testing new, genetically tractable research organisms, including cephalopods and other emerging systems.
The National Xenopus Resource breeds and maintains Xenopus (frog) genetic stocks; and provides training in Xenopus husbandry, cell biology, imaging, genetics, transgenesis, and genomics. The Library in the MBL’s iconic Lillie Building is run jointly with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and houses one of the world’s foremost print and electronic literature collections in the biological, biomedical, ecological, and oceanographic sciences.
The Library’s Rare Books Collection comprises approximately 5300 volumes of scientific books from the 16th through 20th century, including an extensive collection of oceanic voyages and expeditions, a first edition of Newton’s Opticks (1704), and an early encyclopedia of animals from 1560. The collections are available to scholars onsite and significant portions are available to researchers around the world through two digital initiatives – the Biodiversity Heritage Library (biodiversitylibrary.org) and the History of MBL repository (hpsrepository.asu.edu/handle/10776/9).
The MBL Archives contains, in addition to institutional records, a collection of scientific papers, an extensive photographic collection dating back to the founding of the institution, and other unique items including two Nobel Prizes and a complete collection of Rudolf Leuckart’s Teaching Wall Charts.