Hacking science: the intersection of web geeks and science geeks

Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope
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Science should be something that is disruptively accessible – empowering people from a variety of different backgrounds to explore, participate in, and build new ways of interacting with and contributing to science. Unfortunately, the relationship most adults have with scientific exploration is one of observation: usually watching government agencies and scientists explore on behalf of us, but not actually exploring it ourselves.

There has been a considerable movement in the last few years to make science more open between scientific disciplines and to the perceived “public”. But simply making science open – by placing datasets, research, and materials online and using open source licensing – is only half the battle. Open is not the same as accessible. Often the materials are very cryptic or are buried deep within a government website where they’re not easy to find.

You only need to look at projects like Galaxy Zoo to understand the importance of making science accessible. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey had opened up their data, but it wasn’t until the group behind Galaxy Zoo created a thoughtful interface for it that it truly became accessible for hundreds of thousands of people to interact with it and actively contribute to scientific discovery through it. So how can we continue to make science more disruptively accessible across all science disciplines, geographies, industries and skill-sets?

Enter Science Hack Day, a 48-hour-all-night event that brings together designers, developers, scientists and other enthusiastic geeks in the same physical space for a brief but intense period of collaboration, hacking, and building ‘cool stuff’. A hack is a unique modification, an interesting mashup or a quick solution to a problem – maybe not the most elegant solution, but often the cleverest. By having a fresh set of eyes from those who solve different types of problems across a variety of industries inside and outside of science, new concepts often emerge and can go on to influence science and adults’ relationship to science in unexpected ways.

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