‘Anyone can make meaningful contributions to Science Hack Day’

27 Feb 2019

‘Radioquacktivity’, one of the projects from Science Hack Day Dublin 2018. Image: Jeffrey Roe

What do a radiation-detecting duck and a laser maze have in common? They’re both examples of strange and wonderful projects devised and built in 36 hours at Science Hack Day Dublin.

Science Hack Day Dublin returns on 9 and 10 March this year. The seventh event for makers, tinkerers and bright ideas takes place once again in the Tog hackerspace, where participants will have 36 hours to get creative with hardware, software or whatever takes their fancy.

This collaborative, fun and unique event has been run by volunteers since 2012, and one of the key figures supporting this year’s event is Tog’s own Jeffrey Roe.

As the main event approaches, Roe answered some questions about what makes this hackathon like no other, and how they hope to attract all kinds of people to have fun with science.

‘As we want everyone to be involved, we have done our best to reduce barriers’

A glass of water surrounded by foil-covered surfaces with rings of blue light on either side. Bright green liquid creates patterns in the water.

A hackathon project that rigged a system to photograph water drops. Image: Jeffrey Roe

What’s your involvement with Science Hack Day?

I started off by just turning up to the very first Science Hack Day in Dublin. I was amazed just how different it was to the other more start-up-focused hackathons I had been to in the past. From then on, I have been involved in some form or another, most recently being the venue facilitator since the event has been moved to Tog Hackerspace. My job is to help the team to get the most out of the facilities on hand at the hackerspace.

How would you describe the event?

Science Hack Day is an entirely free-to-attend and volunteer-organised event. Ours is a 36-hour hackathon that brings together designers, coders, scientists, engineers and makers. It is a social event with creativity and love of science at its heart.

There’s a strong ethos behind this hackathon. How does that drive the event?

The driving ethos of our event is to open up science to all by working together to create projects. We let everyone use the power of science to create something in the course of a weekend.

As we want everyone to be involved, we have done our best to reduce barriers. Our event is free to attend and we are super-proud to be able to offer childcare and travel bursaries to increase the diversity of participants.

What have been some of your favourite projects over the years?

I would love to be able to point to some of my own projects over the years but I always seem to be overly ambitious. But I guess I have one project that I was involved with that worked out well. It was a 3D laser maze. We had a smoke machine and a bunch of lasers to create a fun challenge room.

Two stacked images: on top, a crowd gathers around a tall grey cube structure; on the bottom, three people stand in the smoke-filled cube trying to navigate around red lasers.

Outside and inside the laser maze created during a Science Hack Day at University College Dublin. Image: Jeffrey Roe

We also had a great project to create a system to help taking photos of water drops. It involved hacking together an automatic water drop dispenser and sensor to allow single-shot photography.

Last year, we had the ‘Radioquacktivity’ project [pictured above]. The project was pitched as combining Tog’s love of ducks and fun with radiation. Over the weekend it turned into a small robot in the shape of a duck that had an onboard Geiger counter that would quack when it detected radiation. It’s the perfect example of a project that fuses science and the whimsical nature of the event that we strive for.

Who should come along to Science Hack Day?

Everyone. The event is open to anyone 18 and over (sorry, insurance reasons). Anyone can make meaningful contributions to the wide range of projects over the course of the weekend. We want people to come with an open mind for science and willingness to work with others for a weekend.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.