Alumnus Promotes Do-It-Yourself Solutions for Labs in Developing Nations

Is your lab underfunded? Underequipped? In need of repairs? Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) alumnus Michael Sungwon Kang (B.S. '12) is part of a growing organization that will help you help yourself in creative and affordable ways.

Kang, currently a second-year graduate student in the University of California Berkeley/UC San Francisco Joint Graduate Program in Bioengineering, is the co-chair and COO of Tekla Labs, a graduate student-run nonprofit group that provides open source, do-it-yourself blueprints for building laboratory equipment.

Although the group's resources are available to everyone, it was founded with the goal of enabling scientists and schools in developing countries to build the equipment they need. A Tekla survey of 20 Latin American labs, for example, found that over 50 percent were in need of basic equipment such as chemical hoods, microscopes, magnetic stirrers, and centrifuges.

Tekla's online and downloadable Guide Library contains illustrated step-by-step instructions, photos, and lists of tools and parts required for each project, with a particular focus on using as many off-the-shelf, repurposed, and locally available components as possible. The website also hosts a growing community of international designers and scientists who contribute guides, share examples, and answer questions.

"In the past year we've enjoyed considerable success, and are working on growing bigger and becoming a foundational resource for research-grade designs," says Kang. "In just a year we've successfully hosted our first competition, Print My Lab, where we solicited 3D-printable designs for lab equipment."

This year, Tekla has partnered with Instructables to present the Build My Lab competition, which will award prizes for the best do-it-yourself solutions to real problems and needs submitted by researchers in Colombia, Nigeria, Peru, and Uganda.

Tekla has also earned its second win and a $10,000 prize in UC Berkeley's Big Ideas competition, and has delivered a number of conference talks and presentations at events such as the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative University conference and the Bay Area MakerFaire. Tekla staff will also lead a session at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Outside of Tekla Labs, Kang studies mechanosensitive behaviors and responses of neural progenitor cells under UC Berkeley professors Sanjay Kumar and David Schaffer. As an undergraduate, Kang conducted research under Fischell Department of Bioengineering professor Peter Kofinas and ChBE assistant professor Ganesh Sriram.

Published September 22, 2013