Imperial College London

African seed fund kick-starts innovative research partnerships


Fitting sensors along the River Nyamwamba

Fitting sensors along the River Nyamwamba

The African seed fund supports a range of research projects with partners in Africa – strengthening ties between Imperial and the continent.

The African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA)–Imperial Research Seed Fund promotes and supports early-stage collaboration among academics, researchers and students at Imperial College London and ARUA member institutions.

ARUA LogoARUA spans 16 universities from 10 African countries: Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. It is intended to develop local research excellence through collaboration to find solutions to the development problems of Africa.

Six collaborative projects, spanning healthcare to climate change, were

"Both universities are benefiting from the sharing of knowledge, ideas and methods" Professor Wouter Buytaert Principal Investigator

awarded funding during the previous Seed Fund round in 2022. Applications are now open for a new Seed Fund round, with the overall budget increasing from £20,000 to £50,000, potential enabling an even greater array of projects to be supported (details below).

Early flood warning

Fitting a sensor along the River Nyamwamba
Fitting sensors along the River Nyamwamba

Imperial’s Professor Wouter Buytaert and PhD student William Veness (both Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering) are currently collaborating with Dr Yazidhi Bamutaze from Makerere University in Uganda on flood monitoring and early warning systems.

The team previously travelled to Uganda to install sensors on the River Nyamwamba, locating them upstream of flash-flood prone towns thereby enabling real-time early flood warnings and evacuations.

With the latest seed funding, the team is currently installing sensor networks on more rivers as well as documenting and interviewing communities about the use of nature-based solutions, such as reforestation of landslide-prone slopes.

Professor Buytaert comments on the partnership: “The incorporation of Imperial’s novel sensor technology to gauge rivers that have previously been impossible to gauge also creates access to a greater data source for use in Dr Yazidhi’s river modelling, geographic information system (GIS) and analysis in Western Uganda. Both universities are benefiting from the sharing of knowledge, ideas and methods to improve the quality of research outputs.”

Toward a hydrogen economy

Another project with a focus on the environment and wider climate change is co-led by Dr Anna Hankin (Department of Chemical Engineering) and Professor Craig McGregor from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The team is developing methods for the sustainable production of hydrogen fuel, utilising solar energy.

Dr Hankin’s lab has particular expertise in photoactive materials, while Professor McGregor specialises in the design of optics – and so the team saw potential synergies which could help to scale up the technology and deliver on the promise of a hydrogen economy, as Dr Hankin notes:

“My ambition as a principal investigator is to be a global leader in the design and fabrication of reactors capable of harvesting sunlight for the production of green fuels and commodity chemicals. The partnership with Stellenbosch will greatly accelerate progress in reactor development through amalgamation of key expertise from our two teams.”

Understanding chronic lung disease

Meanwhile, in the healthcare arena, a project co-led by Imperial’s Dr Andre Amaral (National Heart & Lung Institute) and Professor Refiloe Masekela from the University of KwaZulu Nata in South Africa is looking at chronic lung diseases.

The collaborative team is in the process of establishing an observatory for the routine collection of high-quality data on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. This will involve training a select group of researchers and clinicians to administer questionnaires in communities and also deploy small air pollution sensors.

Dr Andre Amaral comments: [The project] will include data on prevalence and risk factors, as well as availability and affordability of medication and economic cost. These data will be provided to national entities and the World Health Organisation to inform public health policies.”

Historic ties to Africa

Imperial’s Vice-President (International), Professor Maggie Dallman, said: “Imperial has a long history of collaboration in Sub-Saharan Africa. This seed fund will develop and deepen key partnerships in science, technology and medicine; strengthen engagement; and increase the number of innovative collaborations between Imperial academics and scientists across Africa.

“I’m already impressed by the breadth and early impact of the initial wave of projects and look forward to seeing what future cohorts can achieve.”  

Ernest Aryeetey, secretary-general of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) added: “The major challenges faced by both Africa and the wider world, including climate change and chronic health conditions, can only be solved by international collaboration.

“It is therefore encouraging to see ARUA member universities taking advantage of the opportunities available through the seed fund and I’m confident many more will find potential synergies with researchers at Imperial.”

Applications for the ARUA–Imperial Research Seed Fund are now open and are due close on the 31 July 2023. The fund encourages exchange between participating research groups through provision of grants to cover travel, workshops, meetings, hackathons, networks and other activities to explore research directions. Visit:



Andrew Czyzewski

Andrew Czyzewski
Communications Division

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Africa, International, Engineering-Transition-to-zero-pollution-economy, Strategy-collaboration, Comms-strategy-International-university, Environment, Engineering-Civil-Eng, Public-health
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