Dr. Mubenga’s journey to her current work began with a near-death experience caused by a lack of electricity in the DRC. The event motivated a young Dr. Mubenga to dedicate her life to bringing electricity to her people. There are 10 Professors in her family so following an academic path seemed very natural. In addition to academic and entrepreneurial duties, she is now doing inspiring philanthropic and volunteer work in her native country.
So my story began like you mentioned in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which is in the heart of Africa. I happen to be growing up in Kikwit which is a town that didn’t have electricity nor running water. When I was 17 years old, I fell sick. I had to go to surgery. But because there was no electricity in Kikwit the surgery could not take place. So for three days I was in pain. And I was scared. My life depended on electricity. My family was looking for fuel to start the power generator at the General Hospital so they could do the surgery. After three days they were able to find the fuel. Then they did the surgery. The reason why I’m telling this story is because this gave me a purpose in life. During that time when I was scared was when I realized how important electricity was and that it could actually help save lives. That’s when I decided to become an electrical engineer so that I could help provide electricity in places like Kikwit. So that’s my motivation.
Family ties led Dr. Mubenga to America to study electrical engineering. “I completed my bachelor, master and Ph.D. work at UT, with a focus on renewable energy systems. So that’s been my path.”
So when the current pandemic took many of us by surprise, Dr. Mubenga set to work on a plan to save lives.
Dr. Mubenga initially felt powerless about the pandemic but ultimately found a way for people in her native country to build their own breathing machines using equipment and materials accessible to them. Dr. Mubenga will share how she organized a team and devised a truly innovative plan to save lives amid the coronavirus pandemic.Some of the team members are recipients of STEM scholarships awarded by Dr. Mubenga’s non-profit organization, the STEM DRC Initiative, which funded 60 Scholarships in the Congo in the last academic year (www.StemDRC.org) (UT, 2020).
.My background is in the power industry tells me that the workforce is aging. We don’t have enough graduates to replace people so there is a need to increase the number of engineers in the power and energy sector and that is what IEEE PES is doing. If the Scholarship Plus program succeeds in the Congo, then they are thinking about bringing that same concept to the rest of Africa. Another project serves the IEEE PES “Isolated Women in Power” program which has a goal of encouraging and increase the number of women joining the power and energy sector.
I contacted a few people I knew… let’s just say I’m very active on Twitter. I launched a call-to-action, inviting all the engineers and people of goodwill of the Congo to work together to collaborate in order to build a prototype of a ventilator from parts and materials readily available in the Congo. So we began working with students who are member of STEM DRC Initiative, having received our scholarships in 2018 and 2019. Those are the students that you would see actually working to build and test the prototype. Most of them are going to the University of Loyola in the Congo, which is where the labs are physically located… We are also working with another network of schools in the Congo that has over 15 campuses… as well as many volunteers and clinicians. I’m pleased to announce that we have completed the proof of concept prototype which has three main parts.
- Number one, there is what we call the clinical part. That is the Ambu-Bag, which is available locally. It is a low-cost solution that could be made in the Congo to help combat respiratory distress caused by Covid. So the Ambu-Bag is that bag has to be squeezed by a doctor to send air to the patient when the patient isn’t breathing on their own.
- Number 2, We need a control path, or printed electrical circuit board to control the system.
- Number 3, is the mechanical part of the system which consists of having a device to press the Ambu Bag instead of a clinician.
One of our bright student team members is Nicole. She was the valedictorian of her class and right now she is working on controlling the microcontroller. We are using an Arduino for the microcontroller.