From the 11 – 13 of November 2018, the Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) in collaboration with the University of Oxford held a LabHack event in Pretoria, South Africa. The main aim of the labhack was to give undergraduate students the frugal engineering opportunity to come up with prototypes of any laboratory equipment or machine that is used in bioscience laboratories. It is well known that laboratory equipment’s are very expensive and as Africa we depend on importing from developed countries. It is therefore of utmost importance to attract African youth towards the development of low cost, effective and efficient laboratory equipment to reduce the high costs incurred in science and research institution due to expensive equipment.
The labhack event was held at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and attracted 5 teams from three Southern African countries. Botswana with two teams, Zimbabwe with 2 teams and Namibia with a single team. Teams of three to four members were required to be made of individuals from different educational disciplines i.e life sciences, engineering and other disciplines. This was a deliberate move to ensure and foster collaboration across the disciplines as one of SANBio’s mandate is to ensure and capacitate collaboration and resource sharing amongst the member states. All teams were given a budget of R2000 for materials of their prototypes.
While the event itself was not really a competition as stressed by the SANBio Network Manager Dr Ereck Chakauya, at the end of the event all teams were awarded certificates of participation and consolation prizes. Then three teams were chosen for position 1 to 3 based on the prototypes design methodology, presentation, collaboration abilities and soundness of motivation for the prototype. Out of the five teams, A team of students from Namibia with their desktop centrifuge got position 1. The team was led by Loide Angula, a first-year law degree student from University of Namibia. Position 2 went to a Botswana team comprising of Keagile Bati, a Biotechnology student and Nkosinathi Joseph, a mechanical engineering student from the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) and Mooketsi Phori studying Network Security and Computer Forensics at Botho University. The team presented a low-cost thermocycler with some materials harvested from old computers. Another team working on a thermocycler was the Zimbabwean team which got position 3 and was led by Clifford Mutsave, an electronics engineering student of the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Bulawayo. Position 4 went to two teams; a Botswana with their Vortex mixer prototype and team Zimbabwe with their desktop centrifuge.
We may take such innovations and prototypes for guaranteed but this is a step towards developing Africa. We need to invest in such initiatives and projects with a collaborative effort so as to share knowledge and resources. Thanks to SANBio and the University of Oxford for pioneering such an initiative and encouraging youth to be involved in the development of Africa.
Finding African solutions to African problems!