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Thomson Reuters Throws Its Weight Behind Science Hack Day
Posted On June 10, 2014
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According to the website, teams form organically based on participants’ goals—for example, particle physicists may collaborate with designers, and writers may join with molecular biologists. After the 24 hours are up, the participants come together for 2–3 minute presentations and demos of their hacks, and a panel of judges (the organizers as well as notable people from the community) chooses the best creations in several categories, such as best design, best hardware, and best use of data.

Waldman says there are few constraints on what participants can create. “[A] lot of times, the really amazing things that actually do have a chance to go on to influence science in a significant way come from really weird angles that you could never predict.” 

One of Waldman’s favorite hacks is the Beard Detector, a device that determines when someone needs to shave. A participant used a USB microscope to capture a close-up image of the stubble on his face and wrote basic computer code to detect when the stubble was ready to be shaved. Waldman says she found it amusing but didn’t think it related to science. She was proven wrong when a particle physicist who had been in the audience wrote a proposal on how to use the Beard Detector’s technology to detect cosmic rays in a cloud chamber. “And so there’s just lots of stories like that where someone makes something weird; you might argue that it has nothing significant to add to science, but it’s because of the collisions of these different people … that you can actually inspire people and actually make significant contributions to science,” she says.

Recent Success

At the most recent Science Hack Day in Medellin, Colombia, about 120 representatives from a variety of disciplines collaborated with the local community to work toward solving the city’s challenges, says Vanessa Restrepo Schild, regional president of Kairos Society Colombia. She became an organizer of Medellin’s event after a colleague met Waldman at a conference. “We were convinced this was a great opportunity for the city to bring international programmes and adapt them to our local environment,” she says.

What surprised Schild about the Medellin event was the high level of attendance from people younger than 20 and older than 40. “Providing people technology off the shelf can transform and improve lives,” and thanks to Science Hack Day, it’s not an “exclusive for some privileged ones, but for everyone who wants to apply it with a good purpose,” she says. Hack highlights included solutions for purifying water from alternative sources and clean energy production.

The funding from Thomson Reuters “gave the participants and the community the sense that [these] events can make us connect with the world and really bring international attention to what is happening in our city,” says Schild. She hopes the addition of this high-profile sponsor will invite companies and investors to evaluate the importance of the work done at Science Hack Day in order to effect real change.

Addis agrees that the Medellin event was a “tremendous success.” Since Science Hack Days are not just for the scientific community “but open to anyone who has a genuine sense of passion and curiosity,” anyone can start her own event by following the open source instructions Waldman provides on the Science Hack Day website.

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Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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