55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
Regular Hours:


9:30 am – 5:00 pm


11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:


8:30 – 9:30 am


10:00 – 11:00 am

The Academy will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Planetarium will be closed Sep. 22, 23, 24


Project Lab

The goal of the Project Lab is to create a sense of transparency and connectedness between the Academy research departments and the public. This is a chance for the public to see what real science looks like, and for scientists to showcase their work on the public floor.


The Project Lab

About the Project Lab

The Project Lab is a multi-user, state-of-art lab outfitted with equipment needed for researchers to prepare, process, and catalogue specimens from the Academy’s research collections. Read on to learn more about the equipment in the Project Lab.

Researcher at Auto-montage(TM) station

Auto-montage™ Station

This station consists of a high-resolution camera mounted on a microscope and is ideal for imaging very small specimens. A series of images are taken at different depths of focus, which are then ‘montaged’ into one single perfectly focused image.

This camera is typically used for imaging insects from the Entomology collection, and specimens for identification and publication.

Researcher at Big Kahuna(TM) station

The Big Kahuna™

The Big Kahuna is a long-range imaging system used for high resolution macrophotography. It has the capability to capture images of specimens ranging in size from 2.0 mm to 30.0 cm.

This machine is best for photographing larger specimens, such as herpetology specimens, geology specimens and specimens for publication.

Researcher at DNA Work Bench

DNA Work Bench

The DNA work bench is used by Academy researchers that are doing DNA extractions for their genetic work.

The DNA work bench is equipped with pipettes and pipette tips, tubes, chemicals, a centrifuge, and an incubator.

Quad-core MacPro station

Quad-core MacPro

This computer is complete with three 30” cinema displays and includes software for genetic data analysis, photo editing, specimen databasing and georeferencing.

Researcher at Prep Table

Bird and Mammal Prep Table

The prep table is used by researchers for bird and mammal skinning and tissue sample collecting.

It is outfitted with an overhead camera which projects live footage of specimen dissections and preparatory procedures to screens viewable to the public.

Research Projects

Bird and mammal skinning

Bird and Mammal skinning

Dead birds and mammals are often donated to the Academy from rehabilitation facilities or from people who find them in their yards, on the beach or in the street. In the Project Lab, these animals are prepared into study skins for the Ornithology and Mammalogy collection. Visitors can a get a close-up look of this unique process by watching live video footage on the Project Lab screens.

DNA extraction

DNA extraction

At the Project Lab’s DNA lab bench, visitors can watch the steps of a DNA extraction, getting a glimpse of the genetic work that occurs in the Center for Comparative Genomics (CCG). The CCG is a core facility at the Academy where researchers are using the latest genetic tools to understand the ecology, evolution and diversity of species. Current work at the DNA lab bench includes extracting DNA from seahorses for forensics (see ‘Seahorse forensics’), and from plants collected during the Academy’s Philippines expedition. Learn more about current CCG projects by visiting the CCG projects webpage.

Scarab beetle

Insect imaging

The Entomology department uses the two camera systems in the Project Lab for photographing their insect specimens. These images provide a visual catalogue of the Entomology collection and can be shared with other researchers around the world. Current imaging projects include photographing moths and robberflies as well as insects collected during the Academy’s recent expedition to the Philippines. Visitors can see the insects as they are being photographed on the Project Lab screens.

Seahorse forensics

Seahorse forensics

Every year, thousands of dried seahorses are smuggled into the US to be used for traditional Chinese medicine. Academy scientists are doing detective work to uncover this illegal seahorse trade. In the Project Lab, they are sorting and identifying hundreds of seahorses that have been confiscated at San Francisco International Airport. At the DNA lab bench, they are also extracting DNA from these seahorses for genetic analysis. The genetic data will be used to identify where the seahorse are coming from.

Digitized library archival document

Library digitization

The Academy Library is digitizing finches and fieldnotes from the Academy’s 1905-1906 Galapagos Expedition, using the high-resolution camera setup in the Project Lab. This project is part of an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant called ‘Connecting Content,’ with the goal of connecting field notes, specimens and published literature.


Hearst Expedition

In May-June 2011, the Academy went on the Hearst expedition to the Philippines to survey the marine and terrestrial biodiversity. This was the largest multidisciplinary expedition in Academy history. Specimens that were brought back from the expedition are being processed in the Project Lab. To read more about the Hearst expedition, go to the 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition webpage.


Please check for the current program schedule here.

Outside the Project Lab

Out of the Lab

Curious to get a behind-the-scenes view of Academy Research and the labs where the work gets done? Scientists will join visitors at the Project Lab to share stories about dissecting and documenting the many specimens collected on their global expeditions.

Children at Little Learners Lab

Little Learners Lab

Families are invited to have their young learners be scientists-in-training and participate in fun hands-on experiments. Space is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Children meeting a scientist

Meet a Scientist

Academy researchers work on a variety of projects in the Project Lab – from sorting the numerous animals newly collected in the Philippines to preparing real bird specimens for the collections and taking high-quality digital images of rare species. Now they also join visitors in front of the Lab to share their fascinating personal stories and provide insight into their research methods. Meet one of our scientists in front of the Lab at various times throughout the day on Saturdays and Sundays.

Children and researcher

Sweet Side of DNA

Have you ever wondered what “the essence of life” – DNA – would look like if you held it in the palm of your hand? In the course of this 15-minute program, we will crush up fresh strawberries and extract their DNA in order to see it up close and personal – without the aid of a microscope. During the process, discover why some scientists call DNA the most extraordinary molecule on earth.

Specimens in display case

Specimen Spotlight

Did you know the Academy is home to more than 26 million specimens?! That’s a lot of fur, feathers, teeth and spines! Join us at the Project Lab as we highlight a different specimen each week.



The Project Lab is located on the first floor of the Academy, across from the Rainforest.

To see the Project Lab on the interactive Academy floor plan, click here!

Project Lab Blog


Read stories about ongoing projects in the Project Lab.

Read the Project Lab Blog

Entomology Photo


Bird and Mammal
Skinning Gallery




The Project Lab is always fully staffed for the California Academy of Sciences’ NightLife. NightLife takes place every Thursday night and includes music, creatures, and cocktails.

Learn more

Behind-the-Scenes Tours


The Behind-the-Scenes Tour is the ultimate, all access experience at the California Academy of Sciences. It allows the guests to get an exclusive, up close and personal look at the Academy from the inside, including the Project Lab and the Gem collection.

Learn more

Research Resources


To learn more about the Research Division at the Academy, including on-going projects, please visit the Research homepage.

For information on the research facilities at the Academy, please visit the Research Resources webpage.