The first Science Hack Day in Colombia

Last weekend, the very first Science Hack Day in Colombia was held in
Medellín. I had the privilege of attending the event and was struck by
how incredibly dedicated all of the attendees were.

At 9am sharp (an
hour before kickoff), the majority of the 120 attendees had already
arrived and an estimated 80 people ended up hacking overnight. Science
Hack Day Medellín was hosted at Ruta N, a gorgeous
newly developed innovation hub in the city that hosts dozens of
Colombian startups.

pic 1 for science hack

[Myself, Matt Biddulph and an eager Science Hack Day team, photo by
Denny Villalobos]

The hacks at Science Hack Day Medellín ranged
from a cyborg house plant to a sign language translator. Teams also
focused on urban innovation for the city of Medellín - demonstrating
water filtration systems and 3D models of pedestrian zoning on busy
motorways. Three teams were the recipients of the dorky-yet-awesome
SCIENCE medals in the end. Perhaps one of my fondest memories from the
event is watching the first winning team’s name be projected onto the
screen and a loud yelp from one of the team members blurting out,
immediately followed by an embarrassed covering of his mouth as the
entire audience turned to look at him. His team proceeded onto the stage
to receive their medals and the same young man who had yelled out in
extreme disbelief/excitement went up to one of the judges and picked him
up with a huge hug.

pic 2 for science hack

[ecstatic science hacker]

pic 3 for science hack

[cyborg house plant]

The majority of attendees were young (between the ages of 16 to 25).
Some were confident in their ability to prototype ideas, while others
felt unequipped. As with all creative endeavors, everyone who attended
worked through their own uncertainty of what to prototype, how to
achieve it and how to work together as a team. Pushing through this
early stage of figuring out what to create is always a challenge.

At one point during the event, I spoke with a young woman who felt
intimidated seeing all the robotics and circuit boards being used by
teams around her. She told me that she felt her team had an idea but
didn’t have much they could contribute since they didn’t have any
hardware/programming skills. I, myself, have no real
hardware/programming skills (or even a formal education in science!), so
I am very familiar with this sentiment and have fought to make Science
Hack Day open and welcoming to everyone with or without “hacker” skills.
So, hearing this from her broke my heart a little, as I had forgotten
how it’s not always easy to see the value in your uniqueness, especially
in your youth. I pointed out to her that her team had done a lot of
research and that valuable “hacks” aren’t always the ones you can see
being built around you - sometimes they’re the unique ways that people
compile and curate information openly on the web. For the first time
since we started chatting, I saw a spark in her eye and watched as she
knew exactly what her team could contribute. It was sincerely awesome to
watch her and so many other teams persevere through to excitement and
pride in building an idea in less than 24 hours.

pic 4 for science hack

[Medellín science hackers]

In my travel to Colombia and getting to know some of the people in
Medellín, I heard a lot about, and yet only scraped the surface of, how
the country of Colombia had persevered over the last few decades in the
face of many difficult challenges. There is no doubt in my mind that the
perseverance of Colombia comes from the amazing people that live there,
and more specifically the incredibly tenacious youth that are driving
innovative work forward. The people I met who converged over the Science
Hack Day weekend at Ruta N were truly some of the most endearing and
dedicated people I have had the opportunity to meet. Medellín is
increasingly becoming a beacon for innovation in South America and I’m
excited to have witnessed the budding of a science hacker community
within it.

Ariel Waldman is the global
instigator of Science Hack Day,
a 48-hour-all-night event where anyone excited about making weird, silly
or serious things with science comes together in the same physical space
to see what they can prototype within 24 consecutive hours. Anyone can
organize a Science Hack Day in their city - a how-to guide is available
at http://sciencehackday.org/howto. Ariel will next be reporting from
Science Hack Days in China and Madagascar!

Photos: Matt Biddulph and Denny Villalobos