11 Colleges With the Coolest Lab Programs

Prepare to nerd out over these schools’ amazing facilities.

By Sydney Nikols | February 17, 2017

Students at the University of Alabama have the benefit of being near NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
Photo: Popsci.com

Why poke and prod at specimens in a classroom when you can work in a unique world-class facility instead? If you’re considering studying science, you may want to take a serious look at these schools, whose programs and laboratories are pretty unbeatable.

We wouldn’t blame you for choosing one of these schools to get in on the awesome science action.

1. University of Alabama at Huntsville

The Lab: Propulsion Research Center
The Career: Rocket Scientist
What They Do: Students at University of Alabama, Huntsville are given eight months to design, build, and fly a single rocket to exactly 5,280 feet. These rockets aren’t exactly toys, either – they’re large, fast, and come complete with data-collection systems on board. Unsurprisingly, quite a few of the program’s students go on to work for NASA.

2. George Washington University

The Lab: National Crash Analysis Center
The Career: Safety Engineer
What They Do: George Washington University’s transportation safety grad students live every college boy’s dream: they get to crash cars on site, then virtually rebuild them in order to, well, virtually crash them again. In doing so, they help create safety standards for cars, light poles, barriers and signs. The program currently focuses on researching whether or not highway objects should increase in size to match the expanding SUV population.

3. University of California at Berkeley

The Lab: Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory
The Career: Roboticist
What They Do: Students working in University of California, Berkeley’s lab focus on building robotics that help disabled people increase strength, speed and endurance. One year, a group of awesome student engineers built a mechanism for a disabled peer so that he could walk across stage on graduation day. We’ll totally toss our cap to that.

Not only do the students at UC Berkeley's robotics lab help people with disabilities, they also provide tours for local school groups.

4. University of California at Davis

The Lab: Pilot Brewery
The Career: Brewmaster
What They Do: Students in University of California, Davis’s Practical Malting and Brewing class are redefining college drinking by making their own beer on site at the campus brewery. The class culminates in a competition where professional brewmasters judge each student’s project.

5. Texas Tech University

The Lab: Wind Science and Engineering Research Center
The Career: Atmospheric Scientist
What They Do: Students in this program at Texas Tech University learn how to research tornadoes. Past students were instrumental in providing information about Hurricane Katrina – they used a mobile research center to take the only complete measurements we have of Katrina’s eye at landfall. Students at the center also came up with the most current and accurate F-scale for measuring a tornado’s force. Clearly, this isn’t exactly Science 101…

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Lab: Toy Lab
The Career: Toy Designer
What They Do: Students in this program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology spend their time inventing toys and games and then testing them on kids. They’ve come up with some pretty cool things, like a one-wheeled motorized skateboard and a futuristic game of tag. Hey MIT, we may be fully grown adults, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want a spot in that testing room…

The MIT toy lab culminates in a "Playsentation" where students present their prototypes to kids from the community.
Photo: Mit.edu

7. University of Florida

The Lab: Lightning Research Laboratory
The Career: Building lightning-resistant objects
What They Do: University of Florida students learn how to catch lightning by triggering it during passing storms. A few years ago, they helped make the huge discovery that lightning bolts release x-rays. They’re now aiming to solve other scientific mysteries such as the cause for a strike’s unique electromagnetic field.

8. California Institute of Technology

The Lab: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
The Career: NASA Scientist
What They Do: Every summer about 280 undergrads intern at this facility at California Institute of Technology. The lab is known for its groundbreaking work like the Explorer I in 1958 and the recent Mars Science Lab rover. Impressive.

9. Cornell University

The Lab: Creative Machines Lab
The Career: Mechanical or biomedical engineer
What They Do: Mechanical engineering students at Cornell University learn how to print new body parts (yes, you read that right) using an amazing on-site 3D printer. In 2002 students created a new technique for bioprinting that blended living human cells with inks. Currently, they’re working to create groundbreaking spinal discs, cartilage and flesh for humans.

Cornell's creative machines lab is also working on a program to print food.

10. Montana State University

The Lab: Subzero Science and Engineering Lab
The Career: Antarctic Explorer
What They Do: Students at Montana State University would be wise to bring a variety of sweater options to school – they spend time in a low-temperature laboratory studying things that have been deeply frozen, like 250,000-year-old ice cores. They also conduct research on issues like predicting avalanches and keeping roads free of ice during the winter.

11. Stanford University

The Lab: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
The Career: Condensed-matter physicist
What They Do: Students at Stanford University send electrons down the world’s longest linear accelerator to create extremely powerful x-rays, producing 3D images of individual molecules. Oh, and they often work with Nobel Prize-winning scientists. No big deal.

We wouldn’t blame you for choosing one of these schools to get in on the awesome science action, even if you originally thought you’d major in literature. Hey, things can change…

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