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Posted on Oct 9, 2013

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Science Hack Day SF attendees inside the Morrison Planetarium, photo by Matt Biddulph

Wow. The 4th annual Science Hack Day in San Francisco was our most epic yet! I was ecstatic to bring the most science hackers yet (200+) to the largest venue yet – the California Academy of Sciences! Each year of Science Hack Day SF has brought some of the most unexpected creations to life. Each year, I’m asked by reporters what I expect to see at Science Hack Day, and I struggle to explain that it’s simply not something you can predict – and that’s precisely what I love about it. When I talk to audiences about the beauty of it, I evoke a quote from John Peel that sums it up to me: “At the heart of anything good there should be a kernel of something undefinable. And if you can define it, or claim to be able to define it, then in a sense you’ve missed the point.” 

The Science Hackers
This year, people flew in from as far as China, Brazil and Canada to attend, while others made the trek from New York, Seattle and Portland. Most of us attended from around the San Francisco Bay Area, leaving our over-heated-by-the-SF-summer homes behind in exchange for the sensor-regulated conditions of the museum. Of the 217 people that attended, 40% were women. This shouldn’t come as a surprise – there are SO many awesome women that I have met that I love to geek out with about science. I’m actually still aiming for 50%.

Photos + Videos
Matt Biddulph created a great set of photos on Flickr for your browsing pleasure. Fumi Yamazaki also took a huge amount of photos. Both are released under a Creative Commons license. You can also search for “sciencehackday” on Flickr to find many more taken by some of the attendees. Here’s just a small sampling of some that I love from Matt Biddulph’s collection:

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Science hackers playing Cards Against Science (created by David Harris during Science Hack Day!) underneath a T-Rex skeleton late at night

IMG_3491Math in the lab

IMG_3004Lunch in the garden!

IMG_3571Working on a DIY cloud chamber

IMG_3387Sleeping over at the California Academy of Sciences’ aquarium

The Event
I can’t begin to thank the California Academy of Sciences enough for donating their space to our small volunteer-run event! While prototyping takes center stage at Science Hack Day, I was excited to also up the ante on offering a great experience for everyone. The museum closed to the public at 5pm on the Saturday and we then had the place to ourselves. It’s cheesy to say, but it did feel magical being able to wander around the exhibits and sea creatures with barely anyone there. In the evening, we all gathered in the planetarium as Ryan Wyatt took us on a unique tour of the universe and later headed to the living roof where astronomers pointed their telescopes and laser pointers to the sky. In the lobby, teams played Cards Against Science underneath the tail of a T-Rex and formed an impromptu tambourine band underneath the head of it. Others stayed up all night in the lab. Most eventually slept on sleeping bags and air mattresses in the aquarium or next to the penguins. Sleep didn’t last long as we had to wake up at 6:15am with the animals – but we made the best of it by offering a morning yoga class (taught by my mother!), a WALL-E screening, and then by perfect timing, the recent SpaceX launch on the big screen. Waking up to a massive rocket launch was pretty exhilarating.

The Hacks
You can browse through all 38 hacks that were created over the weekend on the wiki (it also notes who received the coveted SCIENCE medals!). The People’s Choice award went to Symphony of the Satellites who created this awesome companion video to their hack using KQED’s green screen room.

The Reactions
Here’s just a few:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank You
First and foremost, the largest thank you goes out to my co-organizing team: Jun Axup, Matt Biddulph, Rose Broome, Ian Fung, Matt Ganucheau, and Nic Weidinger, along with special help from Ruth Klotz-Chamberlin. Creating this event is a huge team effort and many of them worked around the year to pull it off. If you get a chance, be sure to send thank you’s their way – they deserve a lot! A large part of the work also happens during the event itself, for which I’m super thankful for all of our friends in red shirts who volunteered their time to help orchestrate it smoothly: David, Eri, Jeremy, Jessy, Karen, Kishore, Leah, Mathias, Matt H., Parri, Paul, Sarah, Simon, and Tantek. Many of them have helped make this event happen over the years.

Thanks also to all who gave lightning talks, donated cool hardware, and provided amazing activities for everyone to enjoy! Another large thank you to all of our sponsors, who are listed and linked on the right-side of this site! I actually think we should begin calling them our patrons. They financially support this free-grassroots-volunteer-run event – allowing us to provide food and materials for everyone for free over a weekend. We literally would not be able to organize the event we do without their support.

And finally, thanks to all of you who attended – whether you’re socially awkward like myself or incredibly extroverted, you all seem to like the idea of getting excited and making things with science over a weekend. And for that, I have a geekcrush on you all!

- Ariel Waldman, lead organizer of Science Hack Day SF

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