MCB faculty Venki Murthy, along with neuroscientists Grace Schennato Pereira Moraes and Marcio Moraes at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) in Brazil, is part of a collaboration that will build a fabrication laboratory or “FabLab” for use by neuroscientists in Brazil. The Office of the Vice Provost for Research recently awarded the team money from the Lemann Brazil Research Fund, which encourages collaborations between scientists in Brazil and at Harvard.
Many pieces of scientific equipment are not manufactured anywhere in Brazil and thus have to be imported to Brazilian labs, creating supply chain issues and hampering scientific endeavors. “Importing equipment means a wait of up to 6 months, slowing down our scientific production and reducing our competitiveness,” Pereira Moraes says. “No matter how creative we are to overcome difficulties and remain competitive, there is a need for an infrastructure to be able to apply this creativity. The FabLab can do that.”
“I have known Prof. Pereira Moraes and Prof. Moraes as colleagues for nearly a decade, and we have visited each other for scientific collaborations,” Murthy says. “We have been discussing how we could do something together that would benefit not just us, but the Brazilian scientific ecosystem more broadly. When the Lemann Brazil Fund reached my awareness last year, I immediately connected with Grace and Marcio to discuss how we could use this amazing opportunity to maximize the spread of neuroscience.”
The long-term goal of the FabLab project is to enable scientists in Belo Horizonte, Brazil–where UFMG is located–to design and build instruments they need for their research. “Open-source solutions and Fabrication Laboratories (FabLabs) have been successfully implemented in developed countries with great success in boosting innovative science at substantially lower costs,” the team wrote in the abstract for their project proposal.
Once the FabLab is up and running, it will attract a diverse range of scientists, technicians, students, and designers. “Imagine a place where you can play Gyro Gearloose,” Pereira Moraes says. “There you will find a scientific atmosphere to discuss ideas in neuroscience, people with different backgrounds (engineering, biologists, physicians) and tools to build your own solutions. That’s what a FabLab is.”
Moraes and Pereira Moraes run a lab together, and they plan to use the FabLab to build custom apparatuses to study the biological basis of how social groups influence individual behavior in rodents. Such experiments require a setup that enables the lab animals to exhibit a behavior while recording biological outputs.
The collaboration also hopes to address the fact that many administrators in Brazil doubt that local scientists can build up the infrastructure needed to conduct cutting edge scientific research. Establishing a FabLab with the Lemann funding will hopefully help dispel that notion. Grace says, “I’m very optimistic about receiving this funding and looking forward to help to educate a future generation of Brazilian scientists with abilities to construct and to think of creative solutions to solve their questions.