Science Hack Day seeks diversity of talent and ideas

7 Nov 2014

Shoes can become something special at Science Hack Day Dublin

The third Science Hack Day is coming up in Dublin, and anyone who enjoys creating is being encouraged to take part.

A water butt that uses UV light to clean water for home use. A toaster that ‘knows’ who is putting the bread in and cooks their toast to their liking. Trousers rigged with sensors that let you play that drum solo on your legs.

Those are some of the (frankly wonderful) ideas already listed on the Science Hack Day website ahead of the 36-hour hackathon taking place later this month in University College Dublin (UCD). The idea is to go along, pitch an idea or join a team to work on a ‘hack’ or solution to a problem, to create and to have fun.

“You don’t have to be a scientist, a computer programmer or a maker,” says Triona O’Connell, who is volunteering and taking part on the day. “You just have to be interesting in creating things.”

Ahead of the event, people pitch ideas on the website, where others can comment and start getting a conversation going, and more ideas come out as teams form and work over the weekend. There are prizes, but the focus is on collaboration, creativity and fun, notes O’Connell. “You socialise and have fun building something that might be a solution to a problem or simply a good way of getting an idea out of your system.”

Fabric of imagination

The hacks can use hardware, software or a mixture of both, and at previous hackathons O’Connell has used crafts and fabrics to bring ideas to life – including crocheted blood cells and a fabric ‘cadaver’ that can be used as educational resources.

This Science Hack Day (the third annual event) is being co-ordinated by UCD-based engineer Dr David McKeown, and O’Connell is a member of TOG, the Dublin hackerspace, which is supporting the hackathon.

A PhD student at Dublin City University on the BioAT programme, she first got involved in ‘making’ through TOG’s craft nights. “I like building and making things, and I am always fixing things,” she says. Since then she has demonstrated at events such as Dublin Maker and at previous Science Hack Days.

This time around, O’Connell has already pitched an idea for a ‘Concentration box’ – a locked box that can be opened only if students solve solving molarity and concentration calculations, then they find a treat inside when they open it.

Participants at a previous Science Hack Day Dublin get to work

Maker magic

For software developer Becky Yates, this will be her second time taking part in Science Hack Day. “The first time I just showed up with no project in mind, and ended up helping to get a thermal printer working – which became part of Sinead McDonald’s fantastic Tachyonic Antitelephone. This time, I have an idea for a project.”

That idea is a hack called ‘Servocalligraphy’, which is inspired by the ‘Plot Clock’ from Fablab Nuernberg.

“It’s a cute little contraption with two arms holding a pen that writes the time on a tiny whiteboard,” explains Yates. “I want to make a version that can do calligraphy, which is a bit more challenging because the pen has to stay at the same angle throughout each letter. Of course, it’s entirely possible that I’ll arrive at Science Hack Day with a bag of servos and pens and paper and then get distracted by someone else’s project. I love the maker community because you can ask anyone what they’re working on, or what they’re thinking of building, and very quickly you’ll be deep in conversation and learning about a new material, or offering help, or developing the idea further.”

For anyone who is thinking about taking part, she has some encouraging advice: “A slight inkling plus a heap of materials and a room full of other makers will probably result in something interesting by the end of the weekend,” she says. “If you have some idea or material or gadget and you’re not sure if it fits in, definitely bring it – who knows what it might inspire?”

Diversity of ideas and talent

Co-founder of the event McKeown says around 100 people have already registered for the event, and 25pc are female, up from 19pc last year. “Science Hack Day has a relatively high participation from women but we are always keen to see new faces,” he says. “And we want to see diversity across the board – men, women, different backgrounds and perspectives make for a creative mix in hacking.”

Science Hack Day 2014 takes place at University College Dublin on 15-16 November. The event is for over-18s and is free, and you can pitch your ideas or comments and register on the website.

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication