Research on technologies for developing countries a two-way street

Penn State's new Center for Global Studies recently hosted a live videoconference event “From Lab to the Field: An International Discussion of Affordable Technologies” on April 22. Teams of Penn State students and researchers shared their research on innovations for developing countries with researchers at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. In turn, the Uganan researchers presented information on their projects as well as challenges that they face in implementing the processes.

Penn State is home to more than 38,000 future engineers and thousands of researchers of food science, material science and agricultural science.

Nina Federroff, Penn State professor emeritus who was most recently the science advisor to the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, explained the impetus for the collaboration.

"During my time as science advisor, we organized a global conference of university chancellors, rectors, and presidents. What was articulated was that we have lots of university to university agreements, but what we don't have are connections between individual researchers. The genesis of the Global Knowledge Initiative is to connect individual researchers to solve problems."

"This is an extremely exciting opportunity for us. One of the things that we are interested in is advancing global research and global partnerships. This event symbolizes one of our best opportunities to do that," said Sophia McClennen, director of the Center for Global Studies. "The technology that is allowing this conference to take place is also one of the things that we are interested in trying to use more often in order to allow faculty and students from different parts of the world to communicate on their research."

A Two-Way Street

For several years, Penn State students and researchers have worked to design low-cost structures, medical instruments, a social networking system and agricultural devices to help the developing world. Medical instruments included spirometers to test lung capacity for conditions such as tuberculosis, pulse oximeters, and infant scales -- all costing less than $10. The normal market price for each item can be as high as $500. Researchers discussed designs for other projects including: an anaerobic digester to produce methane for cooking; a machine to improve the nutritional quality and shelf-life of injera, a staple in Ethiopia.

After sharing their findings, Penn State researchers briefly heard about projects of their Ugandan colleagues some of whom are facing similar challenges – the protection of intellectual property rights for new products like a “milk booster,” the ability to implement the technologies in remote areas, and the dissemination of these technologies.

"We hope that this is just the first of many opportunities to connect researchers from around the globe with each other while putting innovations to work to solve real world challenges," said Sara Farley, the Chief Operating Officer of Global Knowledge Initiative.

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Last Updated July 22, 2015