Tell us the story behind TReND in Africa
It all started during my PhD when I met Sadiq Yusuf, a Nigerian scientist working in Uganda, while on a course in the US. Talking to him, I learnt about some of the difficulties that African scientists often face, particularly around sourcing equipment and sharing knowledge between teams and institutions.
As I was finishing my PhD, I started to plan a neuroscience course at Sadiq’s university and began applying for travel grants to make it happen. That’s when people started to hear about what I was doing and wanted to get involved too.
We ran our first course in 2011, based on what I’d learnt from my PhD in neuroscience. I also took over some donated equipment from the University of Cambridge, where I was studying, and managed to carry 120kg as my checked luggage!
It was originally planned to be a one-off event, but the scientists attending the course thought that it was so effective that we didn’t just want to walk away. We wanted to take it further and put it under an official umbrella. So, shortly after that, TReND became a registered non-profit organisation.
What does TReND in Africa do now?
We run science courses in African universities, matching our volunteer scientists up with partner universities looking for certain areas of expertise. The aim is to support the establishment of scientific facilities in the universities that we’re working with, so everything we do is based on-site in Africa. When we’re in the scientists’ own labs and working with their own resources, it can be really powerful.
The scientists that we work with go on to share to their knowledge with colleagues, as well as in their communities through outreach events. For me, this lasting positive effect is the best measure of success.
And do you have any new projects coming up?
We’ve just been awarded an outreach grant from Wellcome for one of our new projects, organised by TReND alumnus and now head of outreach, Mahmoud Maina from the University of Sussex and Gombe State University in Nigeria.
The aim is to support better communication of research relating to health and wellbeing by helping Nigerian scientists and journalists work together more effectively. Up until now, our TReND outreach activities were mostly funded by small donations, so I’m really excited that we’ve received this grant.
How can people get involved?
We run a volunteer program where scientists, anyone from PhD students to PIs, can go to an African university and share their expertise. When you register on our website, you’ll be asked which area of science you work in and asked to give a few examples of activities you’d like to run. This list is then compared with the needs of our partner universities to see if there’s a match.
It’s a great opportunity to see different ways of doing science and experience a research environment that maybe isn’t as shiny as the Crick! If you’re interested, you can find more information here and fill in the form here.
And are there any ways to help out a bit while staying a bit closer to home?
Of course, you don’t have to go to Africa to help out! We’re also looking for scientific equipment that’s no longer in use and can be donated to our partner universities. Just like the volunteer program, there’s a database to compare what’s available with what’s needed.
So far, we’ve donated all sorts of equipment from confocal microscopes to centrifuges. The Crick's Light Microscopy team has already donated two inverted microscopes to Nigeria and Kenya! The most popular pieces of equipment are microscopes and kit related to molecular biology.
At the Crick specifically, we’re working on this with the Crick African Network and the Scientific Equipment team. But we’re always looking to hear from people from any institution who might have some equipment that could go to a new home. Find out more about our lab furnishing scheme and get in touch if you’d like to find out more.