Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
University of Oxford
Harare Institute of Technology
LabHack could not have been possible without the following people:
Dr Helena Webb
Eng Robert Shoniwa
Dr Andre Maia Chagas
Dr Ereck Chakauya
Dr Louise Bezuidenhout
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in Africa is often held back by shortages of laboratory equipment in teaching institutions. Even very basic pieces of equipment can be very expensive to buy, import, repair and maintain. As a result, many African laboratories in schools and universities are critically under-resourced and students are required to share single items between large groups. This makes it difficult for them to gain the hands-on experience they need to develop their skills.
Our idea is to hold competitions in which students design and build the equipment themselves! These are LabHacks – fun events in which multidisciplinary teams compete around design challenges to build low cost and reproducible laboratory equipment. The idea of the LabHack builds on the traditional hackathon competition in software. It also draws on the emerging field of Open Hardware. This global movement includes a drive towards the free online dissemination of equipment plans and thereby offers alternatives to reliance on expensive, proprietary laboratory equipment.
Teams participating in the LabHack challenge are required to have a multi-disciplinary team. The teams need to work together to produce a design - and preferably prototype - of a piece of basic laboratory equipment used daily in STEM learning laboratories. These are:
- PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machines
- desktop centrifuges
- magnetic stirrers
The challenge is that they need to make it for under $80 using hardware and materials that are readily available in their home environment. We provide building subsidies and Arduino kits, but the teams are the creative geniuses!
Because we're an Open Hardware event, we would like teams to submit design plans, budget and any software code. This helps our judges, but also makes sure that we can work to help the teams publish any usable designs.
Challenge winners are assessed by criteria including excellence of design, completeness of documentation, frugalness of hardware usage, and ease of equipment use by downstream user.
During LabHacks, participants also have the opportunity to attend a variety of technical, entrepreneurial, Open Hardware, Responsible Research and Innovation and ethics workshops on themes linking to equipment design. There are also social events where teams and other attendees can get to know each and foster long term connections.
We also encourage students to stay in touch with their peers, and to build networks of Open Hardware enthusiasts within their local learning communities.