UCD Science Hack Day ‘hackathon’ aims to turn ideas into reality

‘People make things from scratch, they start with nothing and end up with something new and fun’

An image from Science Hack Day 2014 in the Innovation Academy at UCD

An image from Science Hack Day 2014 in the Innovation Academy at UCD

 

A walk-through laser maze; an automatic feeder for calves; a low-cost piece of kit to take medical measurements; a radio-controlled car that can build 3D models of its surroundings.

Those are among the ideas at Science Hack Day Dublin this weekend at University College Dublin, which will see teams form and build or “hack” new creations.

“It is a 36-hour hackathon where people make things from scratch, they start with nothing and end up with something new and fun,” explains organiser Dr David McKeown, a research engineer at UCD.

“It’s about hacking science, either by getting your hands dirty with hardware or playing with data to come up with new insights and creations.”

Now in its fourth year, the annual event is focused on fun and creating a social environment where over-18s who are curious or interested in making can work together, he adds. “It’s not just for scientists, we need engineers and artists and designers, and this year we will have a poet in residence [Kate Dempsey].”

It works like this: ahead of the event, people post ideas for hacks on the website.

At the start of the hackathon, they present those ideas and gather teams, who will spent the weekend turning the ideas into reality, or at least a partial reality.

 

‘Internet of toast’

Last year, the resulting hacks included trousers that incorporated drum pads, a self-playing xylophone, a neat visualisation and analysis tool for air pollution, a “concentration box” that encouraged undergraduate chemistry students to do a calculation to unlock the box and get a treat, and an “internet of toast” toaster that could let you control the degree of toastiness from your phone.

In a move to reduce barriers to people getting involved, this year Science Hack Day Dublin introduced a bursary to help out participants with costs such as childcare and travel expenses. “The hackathon itself is free and we feed everyone, but people can still have costs and we wanted to make sure those wouldn’t stand in the way,” says McKeown.

And while registration for the event is fully booked, he encourages people to come along on Sunday afternoon to see the teams present their progress and demonstrate their hacks.

 

International hacks

Ireland is one of about 20 countries where Science Hack Days are organised and Ariel Waldman, global director of Science Hack Day, will be on hand in UCD this weekend to judge the creations for various awards.

“Science Hack Day’s mission is just to get excited and make things with science. This can be something silly, it can be something serious. We don’t really mind which direction you want to go with something – it’s just about mashing up different topics, mediums and people to explore and create new things,” she says.

“It has been amazing to watch it grow.”

Science Hack Day Dublin takes place on November 14th and 15th at UCD Innovation Academy, Belfield, Dublin 4.

See sciencehackdaydublin.com

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