Reflections on my 1st hackathon: Science Hack Day PDX

Portland Oregon’s first Science Hack Day took place on October 7-8. This was an event I’d been working on for over six months and through the planning process there were highs (amazing space! raspberry Pis!) and lows (financial sponsors want more than a month of notice). I learned a lot about event management and community organizing, and most importantly through planning this event, I met new inspiring people in the open source and open hardware world and got to know communities in my city that I never knew existed. The event itself was fun/exhausting/inspiring and I want to share it with the Science Lab community.

robinson_danielleI’m happy to talk nuts, bolts, and numbers with anyone looking to organize a similar event in their city. The organizing team included software developers, hardware hackers, librarians, and scientists (Max Ogden, Robin Champieux, Erin Foster, Daniela Saderi, Lilly Winfree, Jess Hardwicke, Jeena Lee, and Alex Chally). I joined to organizing team hoping to make the advantages of working openly and using open source tools tangible to wet lab biologists, and hoping to create a supportive and fun a space for biologists who wanted to learn to code or learn about hardware to meet people in the local community.

Below is a blog post I wrote with my fellowship supervisor Robin Champieux.


Science Hack Day is an event where anyone who wants to make something with science comes together to see what they can prototype in 24-48 hours. From a data visualization to help a scientist explain their work, to a piece of hardware, software, or interactive technology – or something weird like a 3D printed LaCroix delivery drone – Science Hack Day brings experts in technology together with researchers and science enthusiasts to facilitate innovation.

On October 7 -8, scientists, software developers, designers, librarians, and engineers came together for the first ever Science Hack Day Portland at the XOXO Outpost. Empowered by an insatiable curiosity and the generous support of our sponsors, we learned, built, had fun, and walked away inspired!

Science Hack Day Portland is a story of cross-disciplinary collaboration from beginning to end. The organizers of Open Insight PDX, an OHSU Library and National Library of Medicine sponsored project, wanted to bring Jenny Molloy to OHSU to facilitate a hack and create engagement with open tools and software for science. Around the same time open source community organizer Max Ogden, with whom we had previously partnered on an Open Insight workshop, reached out about working together to organize a Science Hack Day in Portland. With our combined expertise, interests, and networks we built an event that not only got us and our attendees excited about the good open tools could do for science, but also catalyzed a community that we plan to nurture with more events and collaborations!

In the months leading up to Science Hack Day PDX, we hosted happy hour events to bring curious parties together and facilitate team formation. There was no requirement, however, to form a team before the event, so plenty of interested people just showed up! With over 100 novice and experienced hackers in attendance we kicked things off with five powerful lightening talks, and unlimited Townshend’s kombucha (along with a mix of other beverages and food).


Another shot of the crowd during kickoff lightning talks (photo credit for this and all other photos not associated with tweets: Max Ogden)

@jessica_microbe helped us understand what Science Hack Day is by describing the global Science Hack Day community, and the plan for the next 24 hours.

@cat_nikolovski of Hack Oregon talked about openness, the potential of public data, Hack Oregon’s projects, and the sometimes confounding process of innovation


@dietrich of Mozilla, one of our awesome sponsors, got us excited about what technology can do and what the internet can be.




@pdp7 of OSH Park made a case for what open hardware is, can achieve, and why it’s important.

Finally, keynote speaker @jenny_molloy described how the expensive and proprietary nature of scientific tools influences not only how science is performed, but also who can perform it. Her talk helped us understand how open source, open hardware, collaboration, and hacking can make science more accessible, transparent, and democratic.

Team formation started after the talks. Rather than forcing everyone to immediately pick a project, we encouraged people to share ideas and discussion topics, and tour topics until they found a group or an idea they wanted to work with. We encouraged newbies to join teams by starting with big picture ideas, rather than potentially intimidating fully-formed projects. Our goal was to avoid anyone feeling out of their depth and like they had nothing to add – everyone has expertise and creativity to contribute!

Hackers had 24 hour access to 3D printers, thanks to @alexchally and the Portland State University Science Support Shop. Alex brought his design workstation and designed objects on the fly, printing ~75 unique objects during the hack!


@hydronics brought the #internetofbuckets, for data visualization and ambiance!

Then we went to work.

Day Two started early with a full house of hackers before breakfast! The energy was high and the space was bustling by 9:00 AM as teams solidified their projects and got hacking.

Toby, Daniela, and team tackled fabricating new hardware and software to improve reproducibility in Daniela’s experiments.


Tiny hackers kept us company at the kid’s table.

At hour 24, and after consuming literal buckets of Thai food, show & tell began. We visited each team’s station, as hackers described and demoed their projects. We were blown away by what they had accomplished!

Jean and Marlene built a prototype device to monitor Raynaud’s disease.

Hackers stepped out of their known domains and learned new skills to execute projects.

Bioinformatics students @shamilene and @xenggg created a double helix lamp.

OHSU biologist @madison_amy_ teamed up with software and hardware hackers to use the Internet of Buckets to visualize the amino acid sequence of tumor suppression protein p53. Amino acids were classified by their properties and color coded!

Data Services Librarian, Erin Foster, played the Makey Makey banana piano she built for the kid’s table.

@chalkers and @jenny_molloy showed us CRISPR’d E. coli from the molecular biology team with a 3D printed microscope and a Rasberry Pi.

@novelistparty took away the prize for the project with the most lines of code for his orca call sound simulation machine.

@HackOregon hackers used a bit of genius, joy, and pvc to blow us a away with their confetti cannon.

@Sarah_Vitak tackled the most Portland of questions: how many swifts entered the Chapman chimney?

@Neurosarda showed us the progress she and the OHSU Laboratory of Brain, Hearing, and Behavior made on their stereotactic micromanipulator.

@denormalize, @lilscientista, and team successfully used coffee and vitamin C to develop film.

Pipette shooting contest!

Mozilla Science Fellow and OHSU PhD student @daniellecrobins used a kit from The Odin to manipulate gene expression in E. coli. She hoped to set up time lapse imaging on 3D printed microscope, but that didn’t quite come together in time. That said, she got some great pictures on Jenny’s ‘scope once the bacteria had grown up on Saturday.

Team Raspberry Pi meets Halloween made us laugh: belligerent bats and light-up pumpkins.

@hellohunnicutt and team built a wifi enabled light sensor with real-time visualization.

Team La Croix realized drone delivery.

Christina Chin’s soil moisture sensor can help you keep your house plants alive. Baby Ian was a portable hacker in training for the entire event!

By the end of the event, biologists had learned to solder, software developers had learned to pipette, and 75 unique objects were 3D printed by @alexchalley. A new community of science hackers emerged, ready to continue their projects and keep working with this fun and supportive group. To keep the momentum going, the Science Hack Day PDX organizers will be hosting bi-monthly meet-ups where people can learn more about Science Hack Day, continue their projects, get help from experts, and build new collaborations. Follow us on twitter at @science_hackPDX to learn more and stay posted.


End of day 2 Science Hack Day crew!

Science Hack Day Portland was supported by Mozilla, the OHSU Library, the National Library of Medicine, and Thomson Reuters. Additionally, we would like to thank Townshend’s Tea Company, Rovente Pizza, and the Portland State University Science Support Shop for their generous support and the XOXO outpost for the incredible space.

Science Hack Day Portland was organized by: Max Ogden, Danielle Robinson, Robin Champieux, Erin Foster, Daniela Saderi, Lilly Winfree, Jess Hardwicke, Jeena Lee, and Alex Chally.