There is a phrase about Texas A&M, my alma mater, that I think also describes Science Hack Day very well. It is “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” I didn’t have a good idea of what to expect going in Science Hack Day, and now that’s it’s over, I still don’t know if I can properly explain my experience. It is something that is definitely meant to be experienced rather than described.
I was invited to Science Hack Day as an ambassador. My fellow ambassadors were each fascinating, wonderful people that I enjoyed meeting. It was really cool to meet so many people doing really great things in such varying fields and that cared about getting the public involved with their research. There were also several participants I knew beforehand, at least via Twitter. By the end of the weekend, I can safely say I had made many new friends and I have new collaborators for future projects.
I didn’t have any particular hacks in mind when I arrived, and in the end I contributed as a science advisor to two projects. One was Habitasteroid, where it takes into account your Twitter friends (the people you follow) and population density to pick the properly sized asteroid you need for colonization. The second was originally someone else’s idea, but it was an exoplanet ball pit where each ball represents one of the hundreds of planets that have been discovered. My husband and I, after the event, have now actually purchased some of the balls and we are experimenting with how to best implement this. A fellow Science Hack Day participant works for the SETI Institute and they may run with the idea for their future public events too.
The GitHub headquarters was the perfect venue for this event. The catering was phenomenal and the setup organically encouraged collaboration and idea sharing. And let’s not forget the main stage was a great venue for watching Doctor Who (an appropriately space themed episode, nonetheless!) and the amazing synesthesia violin show.
If I ever get the opportunity to attend another Science Hack Day, I would probably come in ready with a hack idea. I was hoping to inspire some others for space-themed hacks, but it seemed like a lot of people already had ideas. Even though I feel like I didn’t get to really contribute to the hacks, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of the attendees be excited about science. It is refreshing to see so many people ready to dive into a project and embrace science. And to me, that is the most important thing about this event. A lot of attendees didn’t have anything but an interest in science and even some of the amabssadors went and explored things outside of their field. This exploration and realization that science really can be for everyone is the best part about this event.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank people at the end of this post. Thank you to Ariel Waldman and the Science Hack Day team for all of your hard work in coordinating the weekend. And thanks to you, Science Hack Day attendees and ambassadors, for getting excited about science and for willingly spending a whole weekend locked up at GitHub with a bunch of other interesting folks!
Keri Bean is currently a mission operations engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where she does science planning & sequencing for the Dawn mission in the asteroid belt. While attending Texas A&M University, she also worked on the Mars rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity, the Phoenix Mars Lander, and the Hubble Space Telescope. She tweets about her work and other space stuff as @PlanetaryKeri.