Calling all young scientists and geeks for a free Summer hack in August #H2Hack

You may have heard of the first ever Hydrogen hack happening in the UK this summer, run by the uber cool Arcola Energy team, ahead of the launch of their education programme. The latest news is that we are ready to start filling up the centres. If you want to read all about the hack and apply, go here – but the basic idea is that 100 scientists and geeks aged 18 and under will come together in ten centres and use hydrogen fuel cells to make animate objects move faster and inanimate objects become mobile. Using a variety of fun technology, toys and fuel cells, this week promises to be challenging and completely new.

At the end of the week there will be a large competition between the projects at Ravensbourne College near the O2 in London, in front of a panel of distinguished judges.

If you look at the map on the website you will see where all the centres are, but we are just looking now at getting the right balance of young talent in each centre. By ‘scientist’ we mean that you have an interest in science and engineering, or of course are a flat out genius at science; by ‘geek’ we mean that you have coding/hacking skills; by ‘young’ we mean that you have to be aged 18 or under. Here is the list as of this week:

Nottingham University: we are looking for 8 young scientists, we have enough geeks but if you are amazing, do apply!

Techniquest, Glyndwr University, Wrexham: we are looking for 7 young scientists, we have enough geeks but if you are amazing, do apply!

Centre for Life, Newcastle: we are looking for 9 young scientists, we have enough geeks but if you are amazing, do apply!

BOC, Guildford: we are looking for 7 young scientists, and 2 young geeks

Tettenhall College, Wolverhampton: we are looking for 6 young scientists, and 2 young geeks

Monmouth school, South Wales: we are looking for 4 young scientists, we have enough geeks but if you are amazing, do apply!

University Technical College, Bolton: we are looking for 8 young scientists and 1 young geek

University of Sheffield: we are looking for 7 young scientists, we have enough geeks but if you are amazing, do apply!

In London we have a wealth of young scientists and very few geeks so far! Which is very odd, so please do apply if you love hacking and are happy getting to a centre in London. We are in the process of signing up more London centres as we have so many young science applicants – so there will be a number of centres to choose from.

You can all apply on site here

Right! That is it. It will be a GREAT week, and free – what more could you ask for.

{Mentors: we need you, so if you are too old for this hack but love the idea – register as a mentor, it will be as much fun – but we can’t pay you}



Revolutionising R&D, Science and Technology through geek principles

Today I attended the Astellas Innovation Debate at The Royal Society in London – their glorious ignorance of panel and participatory diversity aside, it was a fascinating conversation and an interesting bunch of people: not my usual crowd, (apart from a couple of familiar faces there because of their Academic standing, not their day jobs).

The subjects up for debate were:

How do we innovate in a time of austerity?

Are we doing enough to nurture innovators of the future?

You can watch all the action here if you fancy. You can see why I wanted to go, this was totally my bag, baby.

I chose to listen rather than tweet (for most of it!) and I am glad I did as it was remarkable how similar the discussions about the challenges facing science and medicine(s) reflect almost perfectly the issues we try to address in the great programming discussions of late. The conversation did focus very definitely on scientific research and medicinal science over and above anything else – particle physics was mentioned, as were lots of very medical terms. But essentially the issues seem to come down to:

  • VCs will not invest in Science research as there is no 3-5 year return – expect 20 years but probably 40 (someone mentioned that we are only really now able to properly scale and utilise the discoveries of Watson and Crick)
  • R&D budgets are being slashed
  • Corporate Labs are disappearing
  • Not enough money spent on education at University level (I would add that this is true at all education levels, and the general consensus was that this is so – but I was not able to comment or ask questions so let’s pretend I did)
  • Apparently there is a survey that says that 49% of kids ages 7-18 are bursting to study Science/get a job in Science and Technology – this survey was quoted a lot but I am afraid I cannot find it on the website :/ if I find it I will post it here – but I do query this percentage

It was not the debate I was expecting but, as I listened to them speak, the similarities with the stuff I do, lobby for, represent and try to resolve seemed so clear that I started riffing on whether the solutions in the geek world, could help.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a scientist, I am not an academic, I have no idea whether this is already being done, but no one in the room mentioned it, except for my favourite panelist: Professor Paul Boyle who mentioned open principles and social innovation. (He later confessed to not wanting to sideline the panel). I am just saying what I would have loved to have said in the room.

1. Money

The fact that everyone agreed on was that VCs would not invest in research that would only yield profit after decades, so they were all looking for alternative routes to fund. I say take the hacker mentality.

Do the research, discover little things, then share them on an open repository, such as coders do with GitHub. The smaller discoveries can then be ‘forked‘ by other scientific researchers, shared and so on and so forth; so that there is as much value in the sum of the parts – and more quickly-realised benefits – as there is in the eventual cure for lung cancer (or whatever the greater intention may be).

This seems to me like something that VCs would feel more able to fund, and could really escalate the speed and number of discoveries and innovation.

I asked the community on twitter if there were such a thing and was pointed to the following:

The Dart Project


And finally everyone said why can’t GitHub do the job?  I suspect they could, but they are not set up to now and I was pointed to this blog post that explains why it is not really fit for purpose, but again there is still debate raging in the Internet about some of these facts.

All of those links are not quite what I mean. But there is something in all of them that is useful.

Maybe we can set this as a challenge at the Wellcome Trust: Open Science hack event, perhaps we can start there.

This brings me onto hack events. I believe that the hacker way of breaking and remaking, building solutions and failing forwards until they find something that works is something the (non-computer) Science community could benefit from. We will see at the Wellcome Trust hack and I will write more on this. Hack days and modding (modification) series are a great way of kickstarting R&D and building working prototypes at a relatively low cost: thousands not millions, nor even hundreds of thousands. In Rewired State we are doing exactly this in our commercial work, feel free to ask me questions!

A dying community – how to bolster the numbers of kids choosing science

In spite of the quoted research that I cannot find, in my experience children are not inspired by the sciences in school. They may love Prof Brian Cox, Dallas Campbell and Kevin Fong – maybe – but they do not see themselves as growing up to do that, in the main. (The science bit, not the telly bit). One audience member whose name I did not catch had a good theory on this, he pointed out that all children studying art, drama, textiles, languages, maths all get to be creators, to make something entirely new, be that prose, or a sum or a fabulous piece of art for themselves, in science (and this was also true for ICT) they just get to recreate stuff that other people have already done. It’s not fun, they can’t create in senior school.

And so we come to the same problem facing ICT education in this country. Fixing the exams to include coding and computational thinking is not the magic bullet. We *must* address this in junior schools: Year 8 is too late, and we must invest in better University Science degrees. Focusing on GCSEs, EBaccs and A levels is too long a road to achieve anything of worth in our lifetimes, it has to happen YES but it will yield in 20+ years. It really cannot be more simple for the educators, and they are doing wonderful things to address this and I have enormous faith and respect for the work they are doing.

However, it will not be fast enough to be ‘VC-fundable’ nor even a good enough argument for the public purse in straightened times, but that is why things like Young Rewired State and its equivalents are so important, and why we need to apply the Open Source/hacker mentality. We need to bolster change in society, we can’t just make a law and make everyone love science and technology (nor is that ideal at any rate, we need art and language) this is not smoking in public places! But what we can do is curate communities outside the education system that bridge the gap between academia, industry and peers who are doing the stuff the other kids want to be able to do, to do this for the greater good of the next generations – we really do. Because if we don’t, this is going to be a horribly slow burn, gang.

I am not going to address the girl thing. Needless to say my views are written many times in this blog, but definitely not helped by events such as the one I attended today and wrote about here, where there was only one female speaker and she was only on the first panel, and the members of the audience that were invited to speak were all male (until I caused a bit of a twitter fuss during the event, and the chair was asked to invite a female to answer the girl question, the selected member of the audience sadly was put on the spot, had no researched opinion on the matter and other than being a female physicist was at a bit of a loss as to what to say).

And so I wrote this.