Building A Lab With A Wedding Registry

by March for Science

The following post was written by Dr. Esther Ngumbi (Auburn University)


“Every young student, in every school and region of the world should have an opportunity to experience the magic of Science.”

The first time I stepped in my first biochemistry lab at Kenyatta University, I was fascinated. I did not want to leave. The lab was well equipped, a rarity in rural Kenya. I still remember treasuring every second I spent in the lab. I remember wondering why throughout my earlier education, my peers and I did not have access to a modern science lab facility. 

I grew up in a rural village in Kenya and went through local elementary and public high school. I didn’t experience science in a laboratory setting until late in high school. Even then, much of the science I was exposed to was literature oriented, and only designed to allow me and the rest of the students to acquire the knowledge we needed to pass the practical exams. Science was never practical nor hands on; therefore, our curiosity was silenced. They say that every child is a natural scientist, but sadly, for me and many other children, that innate scientist ability was never encouraged or nurtured. As a result, I did not see myself ever becoming a scientist.

Today, things are much the same. Many rural parts of the African continent still lack laboratory facilities to ignite the passion for science in young students. And in institutions that have science labs, the laboratories are unequipped to carry out the fast paced 21st century science. Lack of access to science laboratory denies young students the opportunity to experience the magic and fascination of science. It also denies them the opportunity to discover how interesting, exciting and rewarding science can be. At the same time, lack of well-equipped labs limits the ability of many researchers to address society’s pressing challenges.

Despite the lack of well-equipped science laboratories, and funds to support research and innovation that hurts the African continent, its leaders acknowledge that science and technology will continue to facilitate sustainable growth and development while playing a major role in solving todays pressing challenges including climate change, hunger, and lack of water, and energy.  

On a beautiful summer day of August, 6, 2011, I finally received my doctorate degree in Entomology and became the first woman in my community to obtain a PhD degree. As I walked to collect my degree, my thoughts meandered back to my community in Kenya. I thought of the many children in there who had the potential to be a scientist like me but lacked the opportunity. That day, I told myself that I would do whatever it necessary to give the children in my community, other poor communities, and throughout Africa the opportunities to break the poverty barrier, get an education and go attain their goals, including becoming scientists.

Photo credit: Esther Ngumbi

Photo credit: Esther Ngumbi

So when it was time to get married, I decided that instead of getting gifts, I would raise funds to build a science laboratory for my community to inspire a generation of scientists.

Increasing the number of scientific labs across the world, including the African continent, would first and foremost inspire many more young people to consider science as a career. Secondly, science labs give researchers the opportunity to develop solutions that help transform lives and spark new business opportunities in key areas such as agriculture, healthcare, transportation, energy and education. 

Indeed, many of the global challenges our world faces today including climate change, HIV/AIDS, healthcare, recurring droughts and feeding the growing population sustainably, benefit from research results spawned from science labs in universities and research institutions.

Thankfully, across Africa and around the world we are seeing more efforts to increase the number of scientific labs. IBM research group, for example, recently established lab facilities in Kenya and South Africa––labs that provide researchers a space to develop commercially-viable solutions in numerous key areas including agriculture and healthcare.  African Institute for Mathematical Sciences is another initiative that has established several centers across Africa. These centers serve as a space that inspires and enables youth to shape Africa’s future through STEM––Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. And in South Africa, five science centers were recently launched in an effort to support hands-on science teaching and learning at schools.  

Photo credit: Esther Ngumbi

Photo credit: Esther Ngumbi

For my part, I will continue to advocate for the need to build more science labs, especially in rural areas. These will continue to serve as spaces where the next generation of scientists can be groomed and nurtured so that they are capable of carrying out cutting edge research that produces innovative solutions for the challenges facing humanity. 

Of course, it is possible to become a scientist and thrive and succeed despite growing up in a community that did not have access to a science laboratory, as I did. Yet, these kinds of successes are the exception. Overall, youth and researchers around the world including Africa will benefit from having access to science labs.

Tackling today’s pressing challenges and ensuring better livelihoods for the current and future generations requires nuanced solutions that draw from the best frontline talent around the world, especially from underrepresented scientists and researchers. Building science labs will continue to ensure that these underrepresented scientists have spaces that allow them to engage in meaningful research to generate innovative solutions. We must continue to invest in science. 


Esther Ngumbi is a post-doctoral researcher at Auburn University in Alabama. She serves as a 2017 Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) Mentor for Agriculture, and is a 2015 Food Security New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

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