Tanzanian transformation: Instrumental access equipment brings new life to a chemistry program in need

Dar Es Salaam University research team

Pictured above: Members of the Department of Chemistry at the Dar es Salaam University College of Education, where they have seen a dramatic rise in student retention for their teacher training programs.

Five years ago, Dativa Shilla, PhD, senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at the Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE), recognized that her department was missing research opportunities. 

With under-resourced labs, her students struggled to test their ideas about pollution in Tanzania’s waterways.  

Dr. Shilla applied to Instrumental Access with hopes that an influx of equipment would reverse the trend of declining enrollment in the Department of Chemistry.

Frustrated and discouraged by the lack of practical experiences available in the lab, one in every four students in the department failed to advance towards their degree.

When an Instrumental Access shipment of equipment arrived at DUCE in April 2018, Dr. Shilla and colleagues were able to outfit their teaching labs with more than 200 instruments from Seeding Labs!

Dr. Dativa Shilla in lab
“Because of the new research lab we were able to develop with this equipment, we qualified to begin both Master’s and PhD programs. And for that, we are very thankful”

Dr. Dativa Shilla
Dar Es Salaam University
College of Education

The equipment made a huge impact, changing the way the department went about teaching students at every level.

Dr. Shilla reports that students now interact with the equipment, see how it works, understand how to use it, and conduct their own experiments. And the rate of students leaving the department has dropped by half!

“We have seen transformational changes and continue to move forward,” says Dr. Shilla. “Because of the new research lab we were able to develop with this equipment, we qualified to begin both Master’s and PhD programs. And for that, we are very thankful.”

Potential Research Becomes Reality

The Instrumental Access shipment benefitted more than students at DUCE.

After the Instrumental Access equipment arrived, Dr. Shilla launched a long-planned research project examining the presence of microplastics—tiny fragments of plastics—in Tanzania and the African Great Lakes.

Spanning eight countries, the region includes Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Malawi and is celebrated for its biodiversity. Ten percent of the world’s freshwater fish species live in these lakes, which combined, are bigger than North America’s Great Lakes.

Dr. Shilla found significant gaps in the available data on microplastics in Tanzania’s aquatic environment. She summarized the existing data in a 2019 paper published in the Tanzanian Journal of Science and advocated for additional research to fill those gaps.

Dr. Dativa Shilla
Dr. Dativa Shilla

After reviewing all available studies—including NGO efforts, scientific databases, and academic publications—she suggested new avenues to expand the limited body of research.

Dr. Shilla’s work is only one of a few published studies focused on microplastics in Tanzania’s waters and has started a conversation about the impact humans are having on one of the most biodiverse regions on earth.

Equipment from Seeding Labs is key to Dr. Shilla’s ongoing research, which has far-reaching implications. Understanding the amount of plastic in the region’s lakes, and how it got there, is vital to developing better public policy solutions that will contribute to healthier water in Tanzania, and healthier people.

Dr. Shilla says that prior to the Instrumental Access award, she was unable to advance this work at all. Now, she is performing her own sample analyses independently on campus at DUCE, leading to the preparation of two new manuscripts on plastic pollution in the coastal region of Tanzania. 

“This publication was based on research that used our own labs to do analysis on microplastics,” she says. “Usually, publishers are reluctant to accept a paper if it’s coming from labs in developing countries without a collaborator from a well-established lab. But this paper doesn’t have any co-author from any ‘well-established universities.’”

Adapting to a New Reality in 2020

A sample of sanitizers produced by the Chemistry Department Faculty of Science - DUCE

As the world reckoned with the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists at DUCE recognized that they could help the local community gain access to better cleaning products. Challenged by limited access to running water, members of the community struggled to sanitize their homes.

Using equipment from the Instrumental Access shipment, the entire Department of Chemistry began producing high-quality, low-cost hand sanitizer for their neighbors (pictured here). They produced 3,000 liters of sanitizer, effectively changing the sanitary habits of the local community. 

“People are not used to using this kind of product, but during a pandemic, this was necessary for those who don’t have running water,” Dr. Shilla says. “We decided to contribute in this way to support those who had to be in public and use public transport during this time.”

New Professional Avenues

For Dr. Shilla, Instrumental Access equipment has meant so much. She has published more papers and worked with her community on public health. But she has felt the impact in another way.

With newly-opened professional avenues for research, Dr. Shilla has taken on leadership roles within her department. As head of the Department of Chemistry, she’s shaping the future of her students as well as her own career path. 

For Dr. Shilla, Instrumental Access was far more than equipment in the lab. It was the starting line for the next phase of her career.

Share this story

EK Wahome

EK Wahome
Logistics Intern

EK Wahome started working for Seeding Labs in 2024 primarily in the Instrumental Access Program. She is currently a Junior at Tufts University studying Biochemistry and Biotechnology.

EK is passionate about making research equitable and accessible to all.

Jennifer Raymond

Jennifer Raymond
Director of Corporate Relations

Jennifer partners with corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations to identify opportunities to repurpose surplus scientific laboratory equipment that will in turn empower talented scientists in developing countries through the Instrumental Access program.

Prior to joining Seeding Labs, Jennifer served as a Development Officer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where she managed relationships with donors, foundations, and corporations to advance the groundbreaking work of research scientists.

She also directed membership programs for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and alumni relations for the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Jennifer graduated from Wellesley College with a BA in French studies and a minor in philosophy.

Manisha Patel

Manisha Patel
Scientific Director

Manisha uses her scientific expertise to implement the equipment-related aspects of Seeding Labs’ programs and plays a key role in Instrumental Access.

She provides support to Instrumental Access awardees, helping them choose the instruments that best meet their research and teaching goals. She also advises the Corporate Relations team on equipment that would be useful in our awardees’ labs.

Manisha has extensive experience in managing academic research labs with knowledge spanning lab setup, compliance, and equipment training. Most recently, she oversaw labs at Harvard University.

For the past decade, Manisha directed an undergraduate internship program focused on one of her passions:  diversity and inclusion in STEM. She holds a BS in ecology from Rutgers University and an MS in ecology from the University of Vermont.

Micaela Leaska

Micalea Leaska
Programs Specialist,
Metrics & Evaluation

Micalea works with the Programs team to develop and implement metrics and evaluation tools, and to monitor the worldwide impact of Instrumental Access. She compiles and analyzes quantitative data and qualitative stories that exemplify our mantra, “talent is everywhere.”

Her prior work experience includes consulting for the World Bank, working on Water Security Assessments for Peru and Central America, and improving access to safe water in rural Ecuadorian communities with the nonprofit WaterStep.

Micalea holds a BA from Saint Michael’s College and completed her Master’s degree in Climate Change and Global Sustainability from SIT Graduate Institute, where she studied global science issues alongside scientists, stakeholders, and community members in Iceland, Tanzania, and Ecuador.

Chiudo Ehirim

Chiudo Ehirim
Instrumental Access

After completing an Atlas Corps Fellowship with Seeding Labs, Chiudo now provides support to our Instrumental Access partners from his Rumines Ltd. office in Lagos, Nigeria. Chiudo is CEO of Rumines, an environmental technology and management consulting company.

Prior to his fellowship, Chiudo was a country manager for Nigeria with Climate Scorecard, a US-based organization that monitors how the top 25 greenhouse gas-emitting countries implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Chiudo earned a BS in pure and industrial chemistry from the University of Nigeria and a Master’s of Science in environmental technology and management from the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria.

David Borman

David Borman, PhD

David works to highlight the innovation and scientific successes of Instrumental Access awardees. In telling these scientists’ stories, he helps to show the global impact of the Seeding Labs mission.

Prior to joining Seeding Labs, David worked as the alumni affairs director for Brevard College in North Carolina and managed communications for Kids Center for Pediatric Therapies, a nonprofit in Louisville, Kentucky, that provides services to children with special needs.

David earned his PhD in English from the University of Miami. He holds an MA in English from the University of Louisville and a BA in English from Bellarmine University.

Christine Srivastava

Christina Viola Srivastava

Vice President of Programs

Christina is responsible for program development, planning, and implementation at Seeding Labs. 

Christina has experience as a research program evaluator and science policy analyst. She’s held roles with the consulting firm Abt Associates, Inc. and the Science and Technology Policy Institute.

Prior to entering the consulting world, Christina worked for the Boston-area nonprofits Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and Urban Ecology Institute. She holds an undergraduate degree in biology from Swarthmore College

Rick Sherman

Rick Sherman

Vice President of Philanthropy

Rick is responsible for the fundraising activities at Seeding Labs, engaging with corporations, foundations, and individuals to increase their financial and equipment donations to the organization.

Prior to joining Seeding Labs, Rick spent 17 years working in a similar capacity at a number of science-focused organizations, including Keystone Symposia, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation (now the Science History Institute).

Rick earned an MS in Finance from Drexel University, and a BS in Paper Science and Engineering from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

David Qualter

Vice President of Operations

David is responsible for global logistics at Seeding Labs, overseeing the efficient movement of lab equipment worldwide.

He joined Seeding Labs from Image Arts, a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, where he provided logistics direction for the company with $110 million in annual sales.

He brings 20 years of supply chain management experience with in-depth knowledge of international logistics, warehouse execution, and distribution center operations.

Originally an art student at Southeastern Massachusetts University, David now uses his creative talents to develop logistics strategies that produce operational efficiencies and quality customer service.

Melissa P. Wu, PhD

Melissa P. Wu, PhD

Chief Executive Officer

Please direct speaking requests to media@seedinglabs.org

As the CEO of Seeding Labs, Dr. Melissa P. Wu connects scientists and institutions around the world to help reduce barriers to scientific discovery.

Part scientist, part engineer, and part facilitator, Melissa brings strategic insight and rigorous methodology to her work, together with a dedication to helping people.

Melissa is driven by two overarching values: that scientific research is a critical tool for improving human lives, and that research thrives and we as a community make the best discoveries when we foster diversity in perspectives, approaches, and ideas. Joining these two ideas has given her a career focus on creating opportunities for people of all backgrounds to engage in scientific research.

Prior to being named CEO of Seeding Labs in 2019,
Melissa served as Senior Vice President of Operations. She revamped Seeding Labs’ Instrumental Access program to increase its efficiency while expanding its impact.

Melissa’s previous positions at the Harvard Office for
Diversity Inclusion and Community Partnership and the BioBuilder Educational Foundation helped spread scientific knowledge to students nationwide.

She is proud to have mentored many students through
programs at the Journal of Emerging Investigators, Harvard, Boston Children’s Hospital, and MIT.

Melissa earned a PhD in Cellular and Developmental
Biology from Harvard University and holds an SB in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.