The Biomaker Africa Programme is an initiative by the Open Plant fund, Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative (Synbio SRI) and University of Cambridge. The programme, which is the first of its kind in Africa, aims to train biologists and non-biologists to design, prototype and share science hardware designs critical to building tools for laboratory use and for environmental sensing.
The Biomaker Africa Programme is geared towards enabling teams to design and build solutions to problems in agriculture, health, research and education specific to Africa. The programme is currently spread across 4 countries, Ghana (Kumasi Hive), South Africa (University of Pretoria), Egypt (Mansoura University) and Ethiopia (Bahir Dar University).
Kumasi Hive, one of the implementing nodes of the Biomaker Africa Programme, designed a two-month intensive training programme for students and graduates with backgrounds in biology and engineering. Ten participants were subsequently selected and began their training from March 2, 2019 to April 13, 2019. The curriculum driving the training was divided into various sections including:
Introduction to fundamentals of biology
Introduction to electronics and programming with XOD
Introduction to 3D printing and laser cutting
The curriculum was designed with the aim of equipping participants with transdisciplinary knowledge and skills in biology, electronics, programming, 3D printing and design thinking. We believe this will enable the selected participants to build biology solutions to real world challenges specific to the Ghanaian context.
Each training track lasted for two weeks and took place on Saturdays and Sundays. The training sessions were characterized by short presentations by trainers, brainstorming sessions and research presentations by the participants. The training ended with a Biomaker hackathon, where the participants were provided with the Biomaker kits to build working prototypes in a day. After a design thinking session to expose the participants to the design thinking process and a human centred design approach, the participants came out with projects such as:
A solar-powered power pack for gel-electrophoresis to be used for field research and indoor laboratory use
Colorimeter for urine analysis
Water quality sensor for testing mercury and lead levels in water samples in mining areas in Ghana
Air quality sensor for environmental monitoring
Smart DIY biological safety cabinet for BSL1 work
By Harry Akligoh, Kumasi Hive, Ghana and Open Bioeconomy Lab.