Masters students at Rhodes University in South Africa are breaking new ground in field laboratories with their invention, Fieldlab, a mobile lab-in-a-box prototype. Their prototype has already won two awards: a half-a-million rand first prize in the Innovation Hub’s GAP-Biosciences national awards in November 2017 as well as the coveted est Prototype at the Department of Science and Technology’s National Innovation Bridge in 2017, beating over 300 inventions.
Fieldlab is a solar-powered mobile lab-in-a-box, the brainchild of Charles Faul and Lucas Lotter who are both completing their Masters Degrees in Biotechnology at Rhodes University. The mobile lab is set to break new ground in field-testing for viruses and bacteria, particularly in remote areas. The prototype gives scientists access to tools that can identify a viral outbreak on the spot.
“We started working on the prototype this year; it is amazing how much attention it has already received. We are very excited that so many people share our vision for better medical diagnostics and scientific equipment designed for Africa,” said Faul.
His partner in innovation, Lotter admitted that the competition was tough as there was fantastic technologic innovations, “but our passion and focus on the fundamentals was essential to our success”.
The innovators from the Biotechnology Innovation Centre under the supervision of Professor Janice Limson formed part of a group of three Rhodes prototypes exhibited during the first-ever public launch of technologies developed by the Rhodes University Biotechnology Innovation Centre.
Speaking on the award-winning prototype, Professor Janice Limson, DST/NRF SARChI in Biotechnology Innovation and Engagement at Rhodes University, said, “This technology showcase has been the culmination of a lot of hard work and ingenuity from our students and staff. It has put Rhodes Biotechnology firmly on the entrepreneurship map”.
“Our next step is to find space on the Rhodes University campus where we can translate these and other prototypes into products.”
In total the team has raised R1 million so far towards production and aims to have Fieldlab available commercially during 2018.
Field Lab, a lab in a box – medical diagnostics kit
FieldLab is a low-cost lab-in-a-box that provides commonly used molecular biology technologies for use in the field. It combines a microscope, centrifuge, PCR thermocycler and a visualisation system together with solar power to operate this machinery. The system allows medical professionals working in the field to access the equipment found in fully equipped medical diagnostic laboratories. Its high-powered light microscope can visually diagnose malaria. The rugged system optimises workflow and allows for rough transportation without damaging the equipment. This would make it ideal for disaster areas, remote areas throughout Africa and even conflict zones.