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The SciBridge Project: Connecting U.S. and African Scientists

The SciBridge Project was motivated by the desire to grow the scientific discussion between U.S. and East African scientists around topics in sustainable energy development. Dr. Veronica Augustyn, the Chair of SciBridge and Assistant Professor of Materials Science & Engineering, also recognized a need to educate and collaborate with future members of the domestic science and engineering workforce in Africa. These students stood to benefit from increased training in sustainable energy, in order to better address the future energy needs of their countries.

The Scibridge Project starts in the U.S., where student volunteers from NC State and other partner universities fund-raise for the program and design experiment kits around key concepts related to sustainable energy. Past kits include experiments with solar cells and metal-air batteries. Each kit contains virtually all supplies necessary to do the experiments, and serves approximately 40 students. To date, the SciBridge Project has sent over 20 experiment kits to nine universities in Africa in three different countries: Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. Once African students complete the experiment, a researcher from the U.S. is invited to give a web-based seminar, and the students have an additional opportunity for questions and discussion.

Dr. Augustyn and the SciBridge Project received an East Africa Strategic Initiative (EASI) Seed Grant from International Affairs in 2016. The grant allowed the SciBridge Africa coordinator, John Paul Eneku, Assistant Lecturer of Physics at Makerere University, to travel to NC State. In September 2016, Mr. Eneku met NC State students and faculty, helped develop new experiment kits, and identified areas for collaborative research proposals. The EASI grant funding was also used to develop six new experiment kits on renewable energy for Ugandan partner universities.

SciBridge student volunteers at NC State University meet with SciBridge Africa Coordinator John Paul Eneku to discuss plans for future collaboration (left to right: Alexandria Cruz, Alex Hsain, Shelby Boyd, Ruocun (John) Wang, John Paul Eneku, Megan Watkins, and Julian Brodie).

The response from African student participants in Scibridge has been overwhelming, and exemplifies the necessity and impact of this program. One anonymous comment reads, “I am just very happy and inspired about SciBridge because of the nanotechnology, and would like to continue with more discoveries and research in this specific field.” NC State student volunteers are also positively affected: They receive first-hand experience of the broader impact of renewable energy technologies in developing countries, they learn how to design functional devices that are low-cost and non-hazardous as possible, and they learn how to communicate scientific procedures that can be utilized by students with a broad range of backgrounds.

Plans for 2017 and the expansion of SciBridge include new experiment kits, the establishment of a student volunteer network at Makerere University, and the addition of the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. The positive outcomes of this project are sure to continue. In the words of Dr. Augustyn, “The SciBridge project is important because it is bridging not only the scientific knowledge gap, by developing hands-on experiment kits for undergraduate and high school students in East Africa, but also because it is teaching students how to participate on diverse and global teams to solve critical global challenges.”

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