UT Postdoc Helps Develop Educational Bridge Between U.S. and African Materials Scientists

SciBridge co-founders Dr. Veronica Augustyn and John Paul Eneku inside the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the Africa-MRS Conference in 2013.

SciBridge co-founders Dr. Veronica Augustyn and John Paul Eneku inside the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the Africa-MRS Conference in 2013.

Dr. Veronica Augustyn , a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Arumugam Manthiram’s Electrochemical Energy Lab who received her PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2013,  has co-founded an outreach project called SciBridge. SciBridge developed as a result of a two-week research school that Dr. Augustyn attended in 2012 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as part of the NSF-funded Joint U.S.-Africa Materials Initiative (JUAMI). One of the goals of the research school was to introduce early career scientists from the U.S. and east Africa to each other in order to develop future collaborations; research collaborations between Africa and the U.S. are very rare.

After the research school, Dr. Augustyn began collaborating with John Paul Eneku, a Physics lecturer at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, to develop the SciBridge project. SciBridge utilizes the idea of low-cost experiment kits from an exceptional outreach program at UCLA developed by Prof. Sarah Tolbert. The experiment kits, designed for 40-60 students, contain everything needed for novel experiments on current research topics such as dye-sensitized solar cells. The SciBridge project was recently awarded a MRS Foundation Grassroots Grant award for $10,000 to build and ship approximately 20 experiment kits. These kits will be built at The University of Texas at Austin by student and postdoc volunteers, then shipped to a university in Africa, beginning with Uganda. At the African university, the lecturer will lead students in the experiment over the course of one or two days.

Undergraduate Physics students at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, open the first kit in October 2014

After the experiment, a U.S. researcher will give a web-based seminar on the topic, allowing the students to ask questions and discuss the current status of the field.Dr. Reeja Jayan of MIT, who received her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin  in 2012, will be the first speaker to give a web-based seminar following an experiment. The idea is to use these kits and seminars to grow the scientific discussion between U.S. and African materials scientists.

The first batch of experiment supplies arrived in Uganda in mid October, and students will complete their first experiment by the end of the month.  According to Dr. Eneku, the students are “hugely excited and can’t wait to experience the fun of learning how to make  solar cell from a natural dye.”  More information about SciBridge can be found on the project web site.