Bringing the microscopic world to young students in Nigeria

Do you ever wonder what brilliant scientists were like when they were younger? What were their interests? What did they find fascinating? What problems did they seek to solve? We certainly do. When we learned about X-WOW Kids Science Club and particularly its founder, Akpan Friday (through PathTwitter!), we felt a blog post brewing! After connecting with Akpan (@damiakpan), we knew we had to share his story and all we learned about him and the club. Already a brilliant scientist with an even brighter future, Akpan is a third-year student of Microbiology at the University of Abuja, Nigeria, where he’s making an impact on science education in his home country.


Akpan’s dream meets X-WOW

To understand Kids Science Club it’s important to know about X-WOW (@X_WowCom) first. According to its website, “X-WOW is a UK-based social impact start-up, focused on making digital pathology solutions easier to access around the globe to help pathologists in need.” It doesn’t stop there. In addition to digital pathology, X-WOW provides solutions to many challenges pathologists in low-resource areas face, including pathology scarcity which brings with it lack of proper lab equipment, materials and skilled personnel. One such solution is their initiative to re-home retired microscopic equipment to support pathologists in need. Microscopes from around the world have been re-homed to Africa and provided to not just pathologists but teachers and students of science as well. X-WOW funds Kids Science Club to help Akpan achieve his dream of offering science outreach to students in deprived areas to give them better exposure on the use of a microscope, and to help students become great future scientists especially in the field of microbiology.


Akpan told us, “Going back to secondary school days while learning the basic concepts of microbiology (viruses, bacteria, fungi, and so on), I never had the chance to use a microscope – one of the most important tools for studying microorganisms. The only time we ever saw a microscope was a picture in our textbooks. Microscopes are pretty expensive and seen as a treasure to own, especially in low-resource areas. The inadequacy or total lack of equipment and instruments in my part of the world decreases students’ participation in science, and particularly microbiology. It acts as a setback to students’ involvement in not only microbiology but science as a whole. This made me eager to create a solution to start solving this problem. I met Dr. Yuchun Ding (@Dingdingading) on Twitter, a computer scientist at Cambridge University. He had just started X-WOW and wanted to help bring microscopes to Africa. I began working with him to create Kids Science Club. He has always been a source of inspiration and support for all of our activities.”


Akpan’s dream of science outreach to students in resource-limited areas of Nigeria is blossoming. Akpan, along with his Kids Science Club team, visits local primary and secondary schools where most students have never seen a microscope before. The club teaches students about the microscope and microbes and engages them in fun microbe-related activities. “It feels fulfilling for me to be able to share science with children around me. The kids are always excited and can't get enough of it. At the sight of a microscope, they become curious and ask, ‘What's this thing used for?’ The majority of the students are seeing a microscope for the first time. Seeing tiny cells and organisms under the microscope is even more amazing to them,” Akpan said.

On a mission...to microbiology?

Akpan experienced an interesting path to microbiology. He explained, “I first became interested in science as a little child. I would always try to fix a bad torchlight or radio and try out funny mixtures of various liquids at home. I was curious about everything! I wanted to find out what made everything around me work even if it meant destroying it to find out what was inside. It grew naturally in me. I also loved mathematics so much. Also, no one in my family studies science so I really wanted something different for myself. I didn't initially choose to study microbiology. I had always wanted to study medicine at the University. I applied three times to study medicine but wasn't offered admission. By chance, after three years of applying I was offered admission, but it was to study microbiology. I completely had no idea what I was getting into. I came across a TED talk by Bill Gates where he said that if anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades it's highly likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. ‘Not missiles, but microbes,’ he said. Woah! I became more curious about these powerful tiny creatures Bill Gates had spoken of so I began doing background research of microbes and I found out they did many other amazing things, too. This sparked my interest in sticking to studying microbiology. I like to say microbiology found me. I'm very happy to be studying something that has such a remarkably profound impact on everything one could ever think of in life.”


Curiosity drives science

We love Akpan’s response when we asked him why he believes science and microbiology is important for children to learn. “Curiosity drives science. Children are the most curious beings I know. They question virtually everything. It is very important for children to invest their curiosity in learning science because science has the ability to provoke them into critical thinking so they can solve problems around them, develop new skills and provide solutions to challenges they see in today's world. Microbiology is not to be left out. Children need to be taught microbiology. Microbes are everywhere; they live with us. Their impacts on our everyday lives cannot be emphasized enough yet people know little about microbes. There are a lot of misconceptions about what microbes are. Here is where children come in. Catching children young and making sure they're microbe-literates would in turn create a microbe-literate society. A microbe-literate society would create a positive impact on not only the health and well being of man and other biological organisms but on the safety and preservation of our planet earth. By teaching children microbiology, we are cultivating the next person who will find a cure to disease and make our lives even better.”

So how cool is Akpan and the Kids Science Club?! Real quick, especially to the daily users of microscopes: imagine learning science without a microscope! For many of us, that’s one of the first things we learned to use in school. Akpan is creating opportunities for students to see and manipulate, with their own eyes and hands, a completely new world they never knew existed. He and the Kids Club are cultivating the next generation of scientists, “the next person who will find a cure to disease” as Akpan said. How aspirational! One reason (of the many) Akpan’s dream is so special is because of the huge effects it’s making on a national level. In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), most countries have underinvested in pathology services, despite having the highest age-standardized breast cancer mortality rate in the world.(1) Let’s say one student falls in love with science and pathology because of Akpan’s dream. That’s one more pathologist to add to a region desperately experiencing pathology scarcity. In fact, there are fewer than one pathologist per 500,000 people in SSA compared to one pathologist per 15,000 to 20,000 people in the United States and United Kingdom.(2) Think what a difference just one additional pathologist would make, how many lives would be saved! Akpan and the Kids Science Club could very well be moving the needle toward better cancer diagnosis in Nigeria.

We are definitely going to stay up to date on the Kids Science Club and X-WOW and we’ll tweet out anything new we learn. To find out more about Akpan and the X-WOW Kids Science Club, visit the X-WOW website at https://www.x-wow.com/kidsclub. To donate microscopes, science books, drawing books or microbiology-related gifts, contact X-WOW using the contact form on the website at https://www.x-wow.com/contact or email admin@x-wow.com. For more information about the Retired Back to Shine program, visit https://www.x-wow.com/donateoldequipment.


Instapath was founded in 2017 by the same engineers and scientists who developed the original prototypes. Our vision is to enable patients to immediately know their cancer diagnosis instead of waiting days or weeks for the results. Instapath builds microscopy platforms to improve patient care in the form of faster turnaround times and prevention of high risk and costly repeat biopsy procedures. Further, our goal is to provide users with a seamless, modernized digital pathology workflow with tools to complete all pathology evaluations needed to provide the most precise and efficient diagnoses for patients.


To learn more about us, visit www.instapathbio.com or email info@instapathbio.com.


References 1. DOI: 10.1200/JGO.19.00138 Journal of Global Oncology , no. 5 (December 01, 2019) 1-

9. Published online September 03, 2019.

2. Adesina A, Chumba D, Nelson AM, et al. Improvement of pathology in sub-Saharan

Africa Lancet Oncol 14:e152–e157,2013.