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A research institute in Nepal has a unique connection to Wyoming

A group of people in lab coats stand together taking notes in a lab.
Dr. Basant Giri

The University of Wyoming (UW) has graduates across the world. The relationships that come from that vast network serve important roles in research. But sometimes, that network helps with more than just research collaboration. Dr. Basant Giri founded the Kathmandu Institute of Applied Sciences in Nepal. It got its start in part thanks to a UW professor. Wyoming Public Radio’s Ivy Engel spoke to Giri about the institute and its ties to UW.

The following transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Ivy Engel: How did the institute get started? And why did you feel the need to start the institute?

Bsant Giri: That's very interesting. So I did my PhD from the University of Wyoming back in 2013. So I defended my dissertation in December of 2013. And I wanted to come back to my home country. So I returned, I think, January 2014. And, after coming here, I joined the National Academy of Science and Technology of Nepal as a research associate, and I worked for six, seven months, and realized that working in a government research center, or the Academy in Nepal, was challenging in terms of swaying your independency and your output. Because of the very nature of the government institutions in Nepal. So, it's not only me, we had around 14 colleagues who were educated, trained in foreign countries, foreign universities, and they returned to Nepal after completing these studies. And we all together realized that we need to establish an independent research center and do our independent research. That's how we started this research institute back in 2014.

IE: Your lab started with all the UW equipment from a lab here. Can you explain to me how that happened and where it came from?

BG: So while still in Laramie, I made friends with some professors and faculty. And this professor was from the College of Agriculture. He's now retired, I believe. So, he was also the advisor of the Nepali student's community. That's how we met. And he used to come to Nepal every now and then. We have trekked in the mountains with him in Nepal. We also traveled a couple of times in Wyoming and Colorado. And when I said that I’m going back to Nepal, at that time, I was not sure what I was going to do, but talking to him and he said, ‘Okay, I have this some sort of abandoned lab, if you want or if you need anything from this lab, just take it.’ And that was exactly [what I did.] So I went to his lab, and obviously, he had a lot of things. But it was difficult to bring the lab stuff in a suitcase and travel thousands of miles. But I respected his offer and packed a suitcase. So the suitcase is 20 kg, I think that’s 50 pounds, right? So there were a couple of equipments, it was old equipment but I was hoping that it would work, and a few glasswares. So I packed a suitcase and went back to Nepal. So that way kind of on day one, I have something to start with when I went and established this institute.

IE: I can't believe you just put it in a suitcase. I definitely expected it was shipped over or something. Do you have any of that equipment still? Or has it been since retired and you've kind of updated your equipment?

BG: So these equipments are still sitting in my lab. Sometimes my students use them. Not for research purposes, but for teaching purposes. They can learn from it. But I'm still keeping them because they’re very good.

IE: Do you know if that type of thing is common, getting equipment from other labs?

BG: It’s not very common, no.

IE: I figured, but I wasn't certain. So what is it that you're currently studying at the institute?

BG: This is a research institute, and my research and the research that my group focuses on developing is what we call a point of need technology. That means the technology is easy to use, can be used wherever it's needed, it's low cost, portable, and to be specific, we develop paper analytical devices. So that means these devices are made up of paper, like literally filter paper, for example. Obviously, we modify the filter paper, depending on the application. And we combine the smartphone that we have in our hand, to read the data from the device, to analyze the data, and also to report the data to the user. And we also now integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. And so the application of our technologies have been so far, for the detection of pesticides in vegetable samples, used for screening the quality of for example, food, for example, meat, water, and also the quality of the pharmaceutical drugs.

IE: Very cool, and what got you interested in working on that?

BG: So the two aspects about this technology is the real time application of the need of these kinds of technologies in low resource settings, like our country, because Nepal is one of the developing countries, and it has many rural places, very remote locations. And these kinds of technologies are very useful in these kinds of locations. They are also useful in developed countries as well, for example, when there is a war, in the emergency situations, because you need to really test something quickly, right? And you need the result right away. But primarily, these technologies are very useful to developing countries. That's why I chose to work on this technology. Second reason is, in Nepal, we do not have a lot of resources to work on high tech, or the research that requires expensive equipments and expensive lab facilities.

IE: Do you still work with UW professors at all or researchers or is it just kind of you know a couple of them and not right now?

BG: After that, we conducted international conferences a few times in Nepal. And then we ran a citizen science project with support from the College of Agriculture. Now, because there is no active research collaboration, but we are in regular touch. Sometimes students from UW contact me when they want to apply for, for example, a Fulbright scholarship, they want to come to Nepal for certain reasons, and I support their application, those sort of things.

Ivy started as a science news intern in the summer of 2019 and has been hooked on broadcast ever since. Her internship was supported by the Wyoming EPSCoR Summer Science Journalism Internship program. In the spring of 2020, she virtually graduated from the University of Wyoming with a B.S. in biology with minors in journalism and business. When she’s not writing for WPR, she enjoys baking, reading, playing with her dog, and caring for her many plants.
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