A new world of science is emerging — one where average people are encouraged to participate, relying on help from a web-based community of amateur and professional scientists to initiate and build their own science projects online.
A growing interest in so-called “citizen science” was recently demonstrated at New York City’s first Science Hack Day, a 48-hour challenge where a mix of artists, engineers, educators, activists, and even a few professional scientists gather to collaborate on projects they believe can spread knowledge, solve problems, and further public participation in science.
Science Hack Days have already been held in San Francisco, Beijing, Dublin, and Rio. The New York City event was hosted by New York University professor Francois Grey, who has previously led hackathons in Brazil and China.
“It’s nice to sit in an audience and listen to a famous scientist speak, but here you can actually have a dialogue, rather than a one-way broadcast,” Grey said. “A lot of these projects will sort of live and die here. And that’s OK. But a few of them might take on a life of their own…If we can just produce two or three new things out of a weekend like this, that is a great result,” he added.
Here are some of the coolest projects we saw at this year’s Hack Day in the Big Apple:
Desperate Housewares —The idea behind this mobile app is to help city-dwellers find free stuff that is left on the sidewalk. Passers-by can snap a photo of objects found on the street, which will create a profile for that object and pinpoint a location so that other users can find the object, and potentially take it home. This one took home NYC Hack Day’s award for The Technology Category.
Created by: Sheiva Rezvani and her co-programmer Jacki Steiner.
Created by: Yasser Ansari
Windchimes —This is a clever way to repurpose lonely public payphones all over New York City. The phones act as a power source and a stand for environmental sensors, machines that can collect environmental data on everything from wind speeds to the location of a fire alarm. Any data collected would be open source and availble on the Internet. This one was a crowd favourite at the Hack Day award ceremony.
Created by: Ann Chen, Rena Lee, Eric Leong, Louis Lim, Paul Miller, Nick Wong.
The Life of Trash — This project was started by NYU student Nick Johnson, who wondered what would happen if he threw an old smartphone into the trash with tracking software running. He tracked the phone all over New York as waste management workers trucked Nick’s garbage from facility to facility. Life of Trash was born. The project is being used to educate people about where their garbage goes and how close they live to a landfill.
Other notable projects included:
- A new version of a free iPad app that painlessly teaches the Lewis Dot structure to chemistry students. Created by Carlo Yuvienco.
- A fitness and health tracker for dogs. Created by Kevin Lhoste.
- A smartphone app that scrapes social media for pictures of disasters (natural or otherwise) and crowdsources the analysis of damage and crisis in different geographic regions. Created by Patrick Meier.
For more information on projects, award-winners, and other NYC Science Hack Day-related stuff, visit Francois Grey’s blog or check out the original Science Hack Day website started by global “instigator” Ariel Waldman.
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