What is Science Hack Day?

The mission of Science Hack Day is to get excited and make things, with science! SHDB is 36 hours of exploration, mcgyvering and fun around science. This hackathon event brings together designers, developers, scientists and other geeks in the same physical space for a brief but intense period of collaboration, hacking, and building ‘cool stuff’.

What is hacking?

Broadly, to hack is to overcome the limitations of a system – to improve, repurpose, or subvert it beyond the intentions of its original form. As a philosophy, hacking is about claiming autonomy and refusing to accept the world as you find it. Hacks are typically quickly improvised and not always elegant, but often fantastically clever and very satisfying. You can hack software, a fridge, a bookshelf, a conference, a political system – anything (our friend Lars Zimmermann has collected a great list of examples) – using whichever tools are appropriate, be it code, hardware, wood, string, education, communication, social engineering etc.

Isn’t hacking illegal?

No… only in so far as driving is illegal if you break the speed limit. Hacking as an approach can be used in many different ways. Popular culture tends mainly to focus on hackers who use their skills to hack secure systems, steal passwords, leak sensitive information etc, either for personal gain (black hat hacking/cracking) or as civil protest (hacktivism). But hacker culture is much broader than this and to a great extent, though it might sound cheesy, hackers are just trying to make the world better, fairer, more free, more democratic, more awesome etc.

What is science hacking?

Science is a method, a huge body of knowledge, and very often synonymous with the scientists and academic institutions that pursue it. It is a huge and complex system, incrementally pushing back the frontiers of human knowledge. But, despite it’s best intentions, science suffers from a bit of a disconnect from society. And as such there is plenty of scope for hacking! The science hack day way to overcome this disconnect is by bringing scientists out of the institutions to work alongside equally talented people with different skills and perspectives.
The hacks that emerge could be new cultural or civic applications for scientific tools or techniques, projects that explore or challenge scientific ideas, opening them up to new audiences, new ideas for commercial applications, or weird science-inspired creations… All of them have in common that they address science from a non-academic standpoint, shifting the perspectives of all those involved. Check out our documentation of the hacks from past hackathons for concrete examples.

What is a hackathon?

A hackathon is an event format that brings people together for a period of creative and collaborative innovation. They are often used for prototyping and co-developing technology (soft- and hardware) but can also be used for all kinds of collaborative ideation and co-creation: from engineering, to service design, to booksprints, to policy making. Similarly, participants usually include developers and designers, but can and should include anyone with skills or experience relevant to the task in hand.
For a limited time period (usually from one to several days) the experience enables people to break out of their usual working habits, creating a special chemistry that encourages collaborative exploration of new ideas and rapid prototyping of projects that mightn’t otherwise see the light of day.


Our Values

  • Serious Fun
    SHDB is about intense teamwork towards a common goal, with little sleep, but loads of fun! The hackathon experience creates a special chemistry that playfully pushes you to leave your comfort zone, share your knowledge, learn from others, and create something. We create a safe space that encourages experimentation and risk-taking, without the pressure of expectations.
  • Interdisciplinary and collaborative
    Science needs diversity. Through collaborative making, SHDB encourages an eye-level dialogue between designers, developers, artists, scientists (natural and social), and enthusiasts, opening science to new perspectives and approaches..
  • Open brief
    Anything is possible! SHDB is an independent event from the community, for the community. We don’t set specific challenges. You can work on anything you like for any reason you like, be it for critical or artistic expression, to address a social or environmental problem, the next great startup idea, a new approach to a scientific question, or simply for the joy of hacking.
  • Open Source
    As much as possible we encourage openness and transparency around our event. We encourage everyone to make good open source documentation of their projects so that we can share it online for anyone to view, remake or remix.

Why do we do it?

Science shouldn’t just be the privilege of a few. We think science should be a tool that anyone can use. Similarly, we think the practice of science could be better if it benefitted from the expertise of those outside of academic institutions. Thanks to the open science movement, the products of science (scientific literature, data, code etc) are steadily becoming more open. But open doesn’t necessarily mean accessible. SHDB tackles this by bringing scientists out of the lab to connect with and work alongside non-academics with diverse skills and experience.

A global movement

Science Hack Day is a global grassroots project run by weird scientists, hackers and enthusiasts around the world on a volunteer-basis. Founded by Ariel Waldmann, since its beginnings in 2010, more than 80 Science Hack Days have been held in over 27 countries. The event has open source instructions for anyone to adopt and create a Science Hack Day in their own city. Science Hack Day Berlin has been run in Berlin since 2013 by an evolving team of highly fabulous volunteers. Meet us here.
Want to get in touch? Write us here: [email protected]