As another school year kicks off this week, it’s great to reflect on the progress of the SciBridge Project. Graduate and undergraduate students from many disciplines worked hard over the past year to develop hands-on experiment kits and presented the work of SciBridge at local conferences. These efforts play a crucial role towards educating students in the U.S. and in East Africa. We focus on sustainable energy technologies that can simultaneously electrify communities still without a reliable energy grid and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions that result from fossil fuel use. Over
the past two years, we saw an increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters, and if there is no immediate action it is projected that some areas of the planet will begin to face several natural disasters simultaneously (Nature Climate Change volume 8, pages 1062–1071 (2018)).
Motivated by the need for reliable global access to electricity and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, SciBridge technical committees at NC State were hard at work developing educational experiment kits on thermoelectric generators, microbial fuel cells, and potentiostats. The thermoelectric generator (TEG) team put together the finishing touches on the TEG experiment manual and tutorial video (both available under the resources tab) to go along with the kits that were assembled the previous year. Six TEG kits were sent to Prof. John Paul Eneku at Makerere University to be distributed to each partner university in Uganda to be used in the upcoming Fall 2019 semester. This presented the ‘end of an era’ as well as a new beginning for the TEG team, as they transition into a modeling-focused format. The microbial fuel cell (MFC) is developing a kit that teaches the basic principles of an MFC and how it can generate electricity from bacteria found in local soils. The MFC team started developing a reliable experimental procedure and a 3D printed container for their device. They also have an experiment manual in progress that could be rolled out in 2020! A new team was initiated in the fall that is building low-cost potentiostats, based on the work of another successful JUAMI (Joint Undertaking for African Materials Institute) project that
developed the JUAMI potentiostat (more info here). The SciBridge team plans to make an experiment manual and tutorial video that will introduce students to the basic functionalities of a potentiostat and how one can use this instrumentation to characterize batteries, MFCs, and solar cells. The potentiostat team spent most of the year putting together a prototype of a potentiostat and familiarizing its members with basic electrochemistry principles and electrochemical techniques. The team plans to start producing the tutorial video and finalizing experiments to be paired with the MFC project. They also plan to continue building and testing potentiostats that will be shipped to the African partner universities.
SciBridge members were also active outside of the lab, presenting at multiple local conferences. Just before the fall 2018 semester kicked off, Cailin Peterson represented SciBridge as the student highlight speaker at the 2018 Appalachian Energy Summit in Boone, North Carolina. While attending the conference, Cailin was able to network with many students, policymakers, and industry leaders from North Carolina and discuss topics related to that years theme of “Change for Good.” In December, Mike Spencer attended the 2018 JUAMI school in Kampala, Uganda. While there he had the opportunity to share the work of SciBridge with many students from universities all over East Africa and the U.S. He also had the opportunity to meet Prof. John Paul Eneku, who gave a wonderful presentation that summarized the impact that SciBridge is having at our partner universities! The JUAMI school also provided an opportunity to give the TEG kits a test run, as several teams used the kits to apply what they learned during a lecture on thermoelectric materials and systems. SciBridge was recently represented by four students (Rachel Broughton, Cailin Peterson, Alex Hsain, and Mike
Spencer) at the 2019 Appalachian Energy Summit in Boone, NC. The students heard from several North Carolina policymakers and industry executives about sustainability initiatives that companies are implementing, especially in the field of sustainable construction and integrated design of homes and buildings. During breakout sessions in the student summit, they had the chance to discuss job opportunities related to sustainability and ways to impact the energy goals of their campuses and communities. The four students presented a SciBridge poster and won second prize in their category! With the fall semester upon us, SciBridge plans to be just as active this year. We thank the National Science Foundation, NC State University’s East Africa Strategic Initiative, and the NC State University Engineer’s Council for financial support that made these activities possible. We are also extremely grateful for the support that we receive from Prof. Veronica Augustyn and Prof. John Paul Eneku, without whom this project would never have turned into what it is today!