Science Hack Day San Francisco > 2014 Brainstorming


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Got an idea for a science hack? Got a brainwave for a mashup? Add it below. If you see an idea you'd like to hack/collaborate on, add your name to it! 





Artistic Designs on the 2014 White House National Day of Making, SHD Redux: Let's Have Some Creative Fun in the "Oval Office"!


I'm working on some fun and inspirational designs based on science and tech. These designs are

related to the Obama White House's "National Day of Making," held on June 18, 2014.

See this link for the original event:






But, I need some design pointers and other help from art-types or designers! 


When I have a couple samples it would be fun to photograph them in the Oval Office 

 and on the Oval Office desk--sort of a West-Coast version of the official Obama National Day of Making. 


Maybe other groups want to get in the spirit too? Anyone want to Project Manage/Produce groups

who want to film/stage their projects in the Oval Office?












Dance Dance Constellation



Ever play Dance Dance Revolution?   How about a massive game where any number of people can jump in and play simultaneously?   I have hardware that can track people in a large room -- how about using that to create a game where people need to organize to beat other teams.   One possibility, which doubles as an astronomy motivator, is to put constellations (names or drawings) up on a video screen and then have the teams race to position people in the same pattern as the stars!   ( Or maybe this should be called "Dance with the Stars" )







Save the whales by building a better crab trap


Talking with some whale entanglement experts working with NOAA I was struck by how many whales are entangled by crab pots.  These are traps that haven't been changed since the 1930s.  I want to build a better trap that prevents entanglement.  Double-plus good it will also cut down on ocean floor debris and save crabs, when traps are detached from the buoy they are stuck at the bottom of the sea floor as are the unfortunate crabs inside. 




People power:

     -- Expertise in fishing, crabbing, boating all helpful for the project

     -- Expertise working with fiber optics

     -- Expertise working with compressed gasses, if you've got experience with marine applications bonus points!

     -- Expertise making rope

     -- Expertise welding

     -- Expertise working with metals in salt water environments 


Helpful items.  If you've got any of these things lying around and can bring them that would be fabulous!  I'm trying to round up as much as I can.


So this is a project you can get involved with that will have "legs" erm "fins" beyond science hack day.   The ultimate goal would be to implement these designs on a mass production scale and get them into the hands of fishermen.  


Good news!   I've talked to a bunch of folks both whale entanglement experts, fishermen, and researchers.  I have the data and some good ideas on how to build a better trap.   During hack day I want to work with a group (join us!) and try and prototype 1 or 2 of the ideas.   At least to a stage where I can take it to a salt water environment for stage 1 testing.    


Automated chemical molecule generator for 3D printing


Let's make an open source library to rapidly draw chemical molecules for 3D printing. The bonds and atoms can be stylized to look nice as jewelry pieces. This could be done by making our own libraries in OpenSCAD, converting 2D images of molecules into 3D, or hacking existing molecular modeling software.






DIY/Accessible DNA dideoxy termination Sanger Sequencing


The goal is to develop both a visualization and physical system and protocol for Sanger DNA sequencing. The visualization system should consist of a way to image and read fluorescent primers or small molecule(Gel Green, &c.) stained transcripts. The physical system should consist of a an electrophoretic or similar technique to separate the DNA to be read. I know this is ambitious but I think something functional is feasible with a group of at least 5 or 10.


I will be bringing lots of equipment including but not limited to:



dideoxy NTPs

normal NTPs


platinum wire

500V electrophoresis power supply


PAGE gels

electrophoresis aparatuses


LEDs and a Red laser

Fluorescent primers

Light Filters

Capillary tubing







I *Actually* Love Science



The popular "I Fucking Love Science" Facebook page has a long history of using images and content without permission. This project would be an activist science art piece that replicates the IFLS Facebook page but on each item includes a link back to the origin of the artwork that has been used without permission via a reverse image search.






Exoplanet Ball Pit


Want to bathe in a universe of extra-solar planets and adopt one for yourself? A ball pit that has 1781 balls, one for each known exoplanet. Each ball has a barcode/QR code on it which can be scanned to go to a webpage that gives you all the data on the corresponding exoplanet and allows you to print out a certificate for “finding” that exoplanet.








Lemur Status Directory


In 2012, lemurs were named the most threatened mammal on the planet. Of the 103 species of lemur (all endemic to Madagascar), 91% are considered critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. I (Ariel) traveled to Madagascar this summer and I would love to have a visual directory of all the lemur species paired with their current status, scientists who are studying them, other relevant information and links to where you can donate to help conservation and reforestation efforts.






JournalMap Submitter


JournalMap (http://journalmap.org) needs more papers submitted to help it reach critical mass. I'd like to write a tool (perhaps a Chrome browser plugin, or BibDesk plugin?) to help add content. One version could be a chrome browser plugin. Scrapes current page for a DOI, looks up record on http://doi2bib.org, tries to parse a location, brings up an Open Street Map to let user verify/select location, and submits all this info to the JournalMap API (in progress).






Modern Oakland Creek Map


The Oakland Museum of California publishes these excellent maps of creeks past and presentaround the Bay Area, including historic creek beds and areas where current creeks are culverted. I'd like to get this data online into a modern, interactive map. I really just need the data and some time to do this.






Journal of Brief Ideas (the next phase)


Last year at SF SHD, we started building the Journal of Brief Ideas. (More details here: http://www.physicsdavid.net/2012/02/a-journal-of-brief-ideas/) We have shown some of the basic functionality but I am looking for developers who would like to build this further and continue on after SHD. I should be able to get some seed funding for building but want to find a right partner for development first. If nothing else, I’d love to have a discussion about the ideas at SHD with anybody interested so we could just set aside a time for that, even if we’re all working on other hacks.







Cards Against Science (Second Edition)


Last year for SF SHD, we developed an edition of Cards Against Humanity with a science theme. There were over 500 cards with sciencey goodness (or badness, depending on your perspective). I'll bring a new edition this year but if you want to contribute ideas, you can do so at http://cardsagainstscience.com. Just fill out the online form to add cards to the mix!





DIY BIOSENSORS - The ultimate relaxation device - ECG, GSR or HRV, and breathing. 


Let's make a de-stressing relaxation device that uses biosensors. Can it be done?!





Build your own particle detector (cloud chamber)


Last year  we adapted some online instructions we found and built a turn-key cloud chamber that we could use to see traces left by radioactive decays and even cosmic rays! Normally these devices use dry ice to cool the chamber, but our model used Peltier cooling devices, a computer cooling fan, and a scavenged computer power supply. It was *awesome*. 


Over the last year, we've tweaked the design and we think we have the build down pretty good. So good in fact, that we think that we can show you how to build your own turn-key cloud chamber and then you can hack on the design the remainder of the weekend! I'm going to bring enough Peltier's, petri dishes, and other equipment to build 5 or 6 cloud chambers, but you would need to bring two things: a substantial cooling fan and a computer power supply (or the equivalent) that is >300W. Here's what we found works:






   If you bring something along those lines, I'm pretty sure you can go home with your own particle detector! And if you can improve upon the design, that would be amazing. We'll bring a soldering iron and some tools, but feel free to bring your own if you like.


  We also have some code that uses your webcam to record images and movies when a cosmic ray passes through the device. It's still beta, so any help in improving it would be greatly appreciated.


 Let us know if you're planning on building your own cloud chamber so we can make sure we have enough equipment! Once we get ours up and running, you're also welcome to muck around with ours to see if you can come up with any art/science/whatevs mashups!







Play with particle physics data!


I'll be bringing data from the CMS experiment (on which I work!) and the Icecube experiment in Antarctica (which I admire!) and some simple Python tutorials that help explain the data and show you how to interface with it. I'll explain as much as you want so you can come up with your own visualizations, art projects, helper tools...or whatever you like!











3D print the Universe....no really, 3D print the *Universe*.


Some folks are bringing data from some of the most recent simulations of the evolution of our universe. http://darksky.slac.stanford.edu/ These computer programs simulate how the universe evolves under the influence of (mostly) dark matter and clumps to eventually form galaxies and clusters. The final dataset is a map of the current density of dark matter. 


How cool would it be to 3D print some subset of these simulations to see and hold the substructure that makes up the cosmic web. I feel like we could write a converter for these files to openscad (and then to .stl). I don't think it would be perfect, and it's probably harder than I think, but who cares! 3D printing the *universe*!








Nima font


Nima Arkani-Hamed is one of the leading physics theorists out there. The work that he and his colleagues are doing has the potential to upend our understanding of space and time and how we view reality (http://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20130917-a-jewel-at-the-heart-of-quantum-physics/). I barely understand any of this. 


Nima is brilliant, but also a character in his own right. He hand writes all of his slides, rather than using PowerPoint/Keynote/Beamer, etc. This takes nothing away from the presentation, but if you've seen a few of his talks, you become very aware of his script-like handwriting. 






I'd be tickled pink, if we could construct a ``Nima" font. Maybe it's just a webpage that translates what you type into his handwriting style? Maybe more? I don't know Nima personally, but I can't help but think he'd get a kick out of it, especially if it means that people are learning more about the work he is doing! I'd be happy to send along to him whatever folks hack together. 








Local LHC


I recently returned from a visit to CERN (in Switzerland) and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), where the experiment I work on, CMS, is based. Whenver I'm there I'm struck by the size and scope of the project and it's always a challenge for me to convey that to people who haven't visited. 


A little while ago, I mucked around with the Google Maps API to overlay circles the size of the LHC accelerating rings, to scale, over maps. Here's the size of the LHC if it had been build in San Francisco. 




 I'm not a web programming person and I'd love it if someone could help make this site interactive, so that someone could come and type in their location to see how big the LHC (or any of the past or future-proposed!) accelerators would be if they could build one in their own backyard. Maybe this would be a good hack for a beginner looking to hone their programming chops! In any event, there's some cool things we could do to try to show just how big these projects are. 









Sonifying earthquakes


There are some great visualizations out there of earthquakes: where they happen, when they happen, how powerful they are. But in these static images, I feel we sometimes lose sight of what a dynamic environment the Earth is: creaking and groaning and stretching on a continuous basis. There are earthquakes happening *all the time*, but they might be small or in an unpopulated region (ocean) so we don't hear about them.


I found a great site that shows how to query the USGS website and build your own map of where/when earthquakes are occurring.




I'd love to play around with this to sonify (turn into sounds) these data. I'd like to ``hear" these earthquakes and get a sense of when they happen over the course of a year. I have some experience doing this with other projects within the processing language, so I think we could get a first-order hack going. But after that, there's probably a lot we could do with it!




We can also find much more earthquake info here:










A New Kind of Field Guide


Overstock.com does a much better job at helping you find a floor rug than most field guides do helping a novice find which organism they're looking at.  My idea is simple: we'll apply Overstock’s model to field guides. Clickable categories on the side of the screen let you winnow photos down. Icing on the cake: we'll include a highly curated, gee-whiz fact for each organism. (After all, what's the point of looking something up if you don't get to learn the single coolest thing about it!) 


To my knowledge, no one has ever done this. I hypothesize it would be the most user-friendly field guide ever produced.





Curiosity Collector 


There is a huge disconnect between the scientific things we get curious about  and type into Google, versus the topics we’re taught in K-12 science. For example, as a high schooler, I wondered: "How do the leaves ‘know’ when its time to change color?"  But instead our teacher wanted us to memorize the steps of the Calvin Cycle, which meant nothing to us. (Re: the leaves, you won't even find an answer in the standard college botany textbook!)

We can start bridging the "curiosity-curriculum gap" by collecting as many curiosity questions as possible across typical K-12 science topics. A database of these questions would make a great starting point for teachers, museums, and other content creators. (One lead on how to collect these:crawl Google auto-completes:  Take any topic, like “birds”, and see what Google’s auto-fill generates when you start typing “why do birds...” “how do birds…” “what makes birds…” , etc. This would indicate at least approximately things people are curious about)






Hearing Our Oceans Change 


Jellywatch.org is a citizen scientist website that collects records of where and when jellyfish (and other creatures) occur. All these data are in an easy to navigate text file with latitude/longitude/time and species. What if we coded this different variables as colors or sounds? We could then make an iTunes visualizer that shows our changing seas, maybe on a map, or maybe not! 







Painting Jellyfish 


Many aquariums have live feed jelly cams (eg http://explore.org/live-cams/player/seajelly-cam). I've often wondered, "if jellyfish could swim through paint, sweeping along color with their tentacles and bell, what would it look like?" With these live jelly cams, we can help a jellyfish virtually paint. And what if there were lots of jellyfish all at once? Maybe different colors for different animals, or anatomies. Different saturations of color, depending on how fast or slow they were moving. Lots of beautiful possibilities! 







The Sloan Digital Sky Survey and Hubble Space Telescope images of distant galaxies contain a lot of "morphological" information that is currently not being extracted and used. This is because making models of complex galaxies is hard. So, what to do?






Infectious Disease Correlation and Outbreak Alerting System


Repurposing existing information security tools to generate actionable alerts from existing detection devices.



     Time- location- and frequency- based correlation

     Alert ranking for severity based on pathogen as well as intensity of outbreak

     Visualization: geo heatmaps and semantic representation!! 








Brain and heart hacking: EEG meets HRV (heart rate variability)


We're going to explore the space between EEG and Heart Rate Variability. Are there patterns in EEG that precede what we can detect with HRV?

How can we use the two together? How does meditation / mindfulness change a brain and heart? 


This project assumes we can find a decent heart rate monitor. 


But even if not, we'll do something else with Brain Feedback Hacking. Join our team and submit ideas here: https://hackpad.com/EEG-Science-Hack-Day-2014-Team-Tmm7yIJeT1D






Hacking the Arduino


If anybody is interested in building their own Arduino for $5-15 instead of the ~$30 commercial version, I'll run a brief workshop. The main things it will cover are how the brain chip of the Arduino works, and what ancillary electronics are required and why. If you are interested, add your name below so I can get make sure I have enough equipment.







Cosmological N-body Simulations in the Browser


Why leave N-body cosmological simulations of dark matter in the universe to professional cosmologists working at supercomputer centers when you can simulate structure formation by gravitational collapse in your browser? Stefano Meschiari, the man who wrote "Super Planet Crash", has a nice javascript demo to simulate two giant planets colliding: this system is just a few lines of editing away from being a cosmological simulation!


More on the GitHub repo here!







The Music of the Spheres


When we measure cosmological parameters from the Cosmic Microwave Background, it's always done by taking the power spectrum. That means we are only looking at the amplitudes of the Fourier components of the sky map, and and ignoring the phases (which tell you the specific features of the map). Cosmologists think of the CMB as noise - but what if it was actually music? I'd like to listen to the CMB properly, please. 


Here's the Planck CMB map, thoughtfully visualized.

And here's some python code etc that seems to enable images to be turned into sound.

And did you know that iPython notebooks support audio?


Some previous attempts at this project have focused on the power spectrum too:


This is all just "the sound of the CMB", with no spatial resolution - they all just associate |k| with frequency, but k is a 2D vector: what the Planck map shows us is a instantaneous snapshot of a lot of superimposed sound waves travelling in various directions across the sky.  So we should fins some better way to think about them that allows us to hear differences from random phases. Perhaps we could think of the CMB map as an instrument, instead?


Still, it's possible that the CMB never sounds good, no matter what we do. Fast forward to the present day, and the Universe is much clumpier, and its density field no longer looks like Gaussian random noise at all. What does this sound like? And what does that even mean?







Virtual Universe


The night sky appears to us to be a hemisphere, leading us to invent planetariums to visualize models of it. But what if you want to visualize the whole sky? Step one is to take away the Earth, so that we can see all 4pi steradians - which means we need a virtual reality helmet. Sam bought one of these dodocase things for $25 and has been experimenting with it a little - enough for us to hack on. Maybe you own one too.


How about visualizing the CMB, properly? Or the Milky Way? Or the Dark Sky simulations? Or the Big Bang, but correctly viewed from the inside?







My Own, Personal, Journal


I write research papers in latex, and I use github for version control. Getting feedback on papers via github issues is awesome! So, I'd like an easy way to generate a gh-pages cover page, with (at least) my paper's title, authors and abstract, and 1) a link to an auto-compiled PDF file and 2) a big green "Comments" button that takes you to a new issue form. Then, each paper will be published in it's own little journal, with peer review done by the community, in public, on a voluntary basis. #openscience







We're the Universe


The Big Bang. Everyone thinks of it as explosion, but how many imagine themselves on the inside of it? Here's an idea for an activity with kids: act out the formation of large scale structure by gravitational collapse in an expanding universe by putting on a glow in the dark hat and following a few simple rules.  No idea what those rules are yet, or even if this could ever work, but we could make a start by simulating the activity with an agent-based model in an ipython notebook.