Neuromag May 2017 - Page 29

modern cell biologist or neurogeneti- cist, like transfection or the polymer- ase chain reaction. TReND also foot a large sum of the bill themselves to make the classes as inclusive as pos- sible. Classes aren’t just for students either with TReND offering training for graduates and teaching staff so that they may pass on what they’ve learnt and so improve the qu ality of higher education in Africa, as a step toward helping African universities catch up to the European standard. Because right now Africa lacks self-sufficiency, and the development that paves the way to self-sufficiency is expensive. As a result vital infrastructure gets supplied by foreign investment often in exchange for natural resources or labour. Meaning, somebody builds a network of roads, or housing, or in- vests in a university, but the complica- tion remains that there are few native African engineers to build the road themselves and the cost of equipping a neuroscience lab, at least to Euro- pean standards, basically slams the door on many African hopefuls. This is why the continent of Africa has only 620 accredited universities, while wid- er Europe alone has 4000 universities. Europe is tiny compared to Africa, and so this creates an environment where those that can afford education or have been educated to a level where they can make a difference are drawn to higher education or industry in the West. To end this cycle of the brightest Af- rican students choosing more estab- lished European universities TReND aims to encourage elite universities in Africa. Technology itself can be the solution to the prohibitive price of modern science and so TReNDs founder, Tom Baden, proposes that advances in 3D printing technologies can be used to print lab equipment on location, wherever it may be. This is a fairly novel idea, given the complex- ity and sophistication of even low end lab equipment, especially when you consider that even these advanced machines are calibrated against higher standards, how could you validate the precision of a 3D printed pipette, when it’s the only pipette you have? Fortu- nately we can be fairly sure that this is only a short term problem as a huge number of ready to be printed 3D soft- ware models from Frisbees to phone cases are available for free online, for anyone with a 3D printer to download and get printing. This is the open- hardware movement, a named coined from the open-source movement that drives innovation in software design, and what it means is that anyone can download, tinker with and upload a design to fix and develop it. Think of it like crowd innovation where users are directly invested in the final prod- uct. This has massive advantages for TReND because in the future it would circumvent the need for shipping lab equipment and obliterate the previous costs. And, by providing 3D printers and classes in coding and computer science, allow students to print what they need for themselves, without re- lying on pre-fabricated models. This approach worked well during the rise of some of the most widely used software in the world –FireFox and Linux and Android, to name a few—as software developers were the first to harness the potential of open-source. Their idea was to spread understand- ing of coding, with the added ben- efit of users being able to customise a product exactly to their needs. Why not apply this to science as well? With the lowering cost of 3D printers and the incredible convenience of the sys- tem, some people suspect we may be entering a new industrial era, it is just waiting for more precise 3D printers and printable materials beyond the standard plastics. If this is achieved it could bypass the lack of industry in Africa by enabling them to print-man- ufacture for themselves. Open-source lab equipment is already here, and Tom Baden among others is work- ing towards a 3D printed laboratory toolkit that so far includes a pipette accurate to 1ml and a fluorescent microscope capable of supporting si- multaneous optogenetic stimulation, that was made for less than $100. For some perspective a new upright light microscope with no extras from Zeiss will set you back the princely sum of €17,177.65, which means you could lose of break your printable micro- scope one hundred and seventy times, and by its 170th iteration, who knows what else it could do? The open-hardware initiative there- fore offers an opportunity to address problems with science in both Africa and in Europe, by opening science to the public and giving people a better understanding of the groundworks of the scientific process as well as a deeper familiarity with the equipment that makes it happen. While TReNDs goal of empowering aspiring and ex- isting scientists to innovate for them- selves could act as a starting point for a profound shift in the distribution of scientific activity. Even those who could not code for themselves could attain multiples fluorescent micro- scopes for the classroom, and finally do away with the far-to-literal field trips we’ve all be subjected to. What’s more coding languages are now be- ing taught in many primary schools as well, so hopefully the next generation of scientists will thank us for giving open-hardware a fair shot. Joe Sheppard graduated from the Cellular and Molecular Neu- roscience master's program in 2016. Baden, T. et al.. (2015). Open labware: 3-D printing your own lab equipment. PLoS Bi- ology, 13(3), 1–12 May 2017 | NEUROMAG | 29