Biomaker Training in Ghana: Introducing biologists and non-biologists to “Building science hardware for biology”

Participants tinkering with XOD and the Open Smart Rich UNO 3 microcontroller

Participants tinkering with XOD and the Open Smart Rich UNO 3 microcontroller

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 has been the first of its kind in Africa and is aimed at training biologists and non-biologists to design, prototype and share science hardware critical to building tools for laboratory use and environmental sensing. On the other hand, the Biomaker Africa programme is geared towards enabling teams to design and build solutions to problems in agriculture, health, research and education peculiar to Africa. The Biomaker Africa programme is embedded in 4 countries, namely Ghana (Kumasi Hive), South Africa (University of Pretoria), Egypt (Mansoura University) and Ethiopia (Bahir Dar University).

Kumasi Hive, one of the implementing nodes on the Biomaker Africa programme, designed a two-month intensive training programme for students and graduates with a background in biology and engineering. The training in Kumasi Hive involved 10 participants who were engaged for two months, from 2 March 2019 to 13 April 2019. The curriculum was divided into various sections;

  1. Introduction to fundamentals of biology

  2. Introduction to electronics and programming with XOD

  3. Introduction to 3D printing and laser cutting

  4. Design thinking

The curriculum was designed with the goal of equipping participants with trans-disciplinary knowledge and skills in biology, electronics, programming, 3D printing and design thinking. This we believe will enable the selected participants to build solutions to real world challenges peculiar to the Ghanaian context.

Each training track lasted for two weeks and happened only 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 10 participants to the design thinking process and human-centered design approach, the participants came out with projects such as:

Participants of the Biomaker Training putting to use their 3D printing skills and 3D modeling skills.

Participants of the Biomaker Training putting to use their 3D printing skills and 3D modeling skills.

Michael Boakye Sarfo one of the ten participants testifying about the Biomaker training programme.

Michael Boakye Sarfo one of the ten participants testifying about the Biomaker training programme.

  1. A solar powered power pack for gel electrophoresis to be used for field research and indoor laboratory use

  2. Colorimeter for urine analysis

  3. Water quality sensor for testing mercury and lead levels in water samples in mining areas in Ghana

  4. Air quality sensor for environmental monitoring

  5. Smart DIY biological safety cabinet for BSL1 work

SynBio SRI Coordinator