AFRICA: Universities benefit from used lab equipment

The ability of African universities to undertake in-depth research is often hampered by lack of appropriate technology. Now institutions are benefiting from Seeding Labs, a non-profit US-based organisation that works with universities and companies to provide second-hand laboratory equipment in good condition for the developing world.

The project was started in 2001 by Dr Nina Dudnik, who was pursuing her doctorate at Harvard Medical School, to source equipment that includes test tubes, beakers, thermometers and microscopes to support basic and advanced research in universities and industry.

"I worked in a lab in Ivory Coast with wonderfully talented scientists who were doing good work despite scarce resources. I know that talented people are everywhere and that scientific research is critical to meet the challenges facing Africa," said Dudnik, who is also Executive Director of Seeding Labs.

When University World News spoke with her, she was about to ship the largest consignment in Seeding Labs' six-year history: a 40-foot container of equipment destined for Kenyatta University in Nairobi, a 3,500-student institution in the Kenyan capital. The US$750,000 shipment includes spectrophotometers, ultracentrifuges, microscopes and equipment for chromatography and protein isolation, as well as smaller devices and supplies.

Dudnik does not consider her work as charity to Africa but rather a way of nurturing and leveraging the intelligence of talented people everywhere: "Africa's scientists will be valued partners in collaborative projects that America's scientists have not yet dreamed of. We have a responsibility to the pursuit of science worldwide to make sure scientists everywhere have the tools to make the most of their skills," she said.

Over the last six years, Seeding Labs has equipped 22 science laboratories at universities in 13 Latin American and African countries. The equipment comes from major biotech and pharmaceutical giants in the United States who donate outdated but functional equipment that would have been dumped in basement storerooms.

Currently focused on institutions in East Africa, Dudnik said Seeding Labs worked with departments or universities, not individual scientists: "We rely on the universities with which we work to recommend others."

The organisation's expertise is in equipment suitable for biological and chemical sciences. To publicise its work in Africa, Seeding Labs' board of directors includes several African expatriate scientists who maintain ties with the continent. It also partners with the World Association of Young Scientists, which has a board and members throughout Africa.