Every year, U.S. research facilities spend billions on equipment—and dump last year’s models in the landfill. Many of the castoffs are perfectly usable, according to Nina Dudnik, founder of Seeding Labs. “Equipment upgrades are not so much key functionalities as bells and whistles,” she says. Meanwhile, university labs in developing nations are starved for basic equipment.
As a student at Harvard University, Dudnik founded Seeding Labs to address the disparity. The organization queries top university researchers throughout the developing world and matches their equipment needs to sources in the United States. The machines are cleaned, repaired, tested, and shipped to the new owners. “We’re about connecting the people at both ends of that transaction,” says Dudnik.
Seeding Labs also organizes workshops that facilitate collaboration. In the summer of 2010, for instance, faculty at Kenya’s Kenyatta University spent 10 weeks paired with biomedical researchers at Novartis. “They worked together in the research lab every day, integrated into their operations,” Dudnik says. This kind of partnership, she adds, can lead to long-lasting global relationships.
Since researchers tend to focus on solving riddles in their immediate environment, distributing sophisticated equipment more broadly will help identify problems in the developing world more quickly and accurately. Well-equipped labs also create jobs and can improve struggling economies.
Scientists in the West benefit, too. Those who participate tend to be young, Dudnik says, and the program helps them place their work in the context of a global community of peers, which raises their consciousness. “Scientists are often relegated to having an impact only with the research they do,” Dudnik says. “Our role is to demonstrate that they also have a social role and can drive social change.”
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