The idea of Science Hack Days is simple: gather together a bunch of people to get excited and make things with science in an extremely limited period of time. Here are a few of the projects hacked together in San Francisco in just 24 hours.

Top image: The Blindinator is the world's very worst computer protection system and the essence of a "Don't try this at home!" idea, using eye-tracking software to direct an eye-blinding laser.

If you want to build something, you're going to need a lot of hardware. Puff found the pile of Arduinos, connector cables, and assorted tapes strangely comfortable.

Science Hack Day participants are everyone and anyone excited about science: scientists and engineers, but also designers, artists, students, and anyone else who finds the concept of dedicating an entire weekend to hacking things together unbelievably cool.

Debugging is a lot more pleasant with a glass of something distracting.

Attendees get a few hours to show up, snack, chat, attend a round of lightning talks pitching project ideas, then prowl around finding a group to work with over the weekend. They get exactly 24 hours to pull a project together, hustling to create a proof-of-concept or even fully-fledged prototype to present before the bell rings.

Puff dons the world's most adorable mindreading device, a headset with ears that twitch in response to brainwaves. Alas, the fluff between his ears failed to provide a sufficient electromagnetic field to trigger any action.

I attended Science Hack Day San Francisco as a science ambassador to present a lightning talk pitching geoscience project ideas, and jumping in to drop packets of subject-area expertise when appropriate.


Doctor Who is ideal inspiration for generating non-standard solutions to unusual problems.

While I spent most of my time scavenging materials and arguing with circuits, my small and fluffy companion, Puff the Science Dragon, had other plans. He went roaming to learn what everyone else was working on, and even tested out some of the early-stage prototypes. These are some of the projects that he found in-progress as the evening transformed into undeniable night:

Puff hugs a bamboo sprout in a vial as part of an experiment to direct the plant's growth to be fat and thick instead of tall and wide. This bioengineering experiment wants to harness the rapid growth of bamboo to literally grow homes.

It's a compact turn-key cloud chamber! Puff is mesmerized by the trails of alcohol vapour condensing in the wake of a passing particle.

Puff explores the mysteries of DNA sequencing.

A papercraft tyrannosaurs considers the edibility of dragons. Lucky for Puff, the dinosaur is not yet metamorphosed into its robotic laser-eyed state.

One advantage of being a six-inch dragon full of mostly-fluff is weighing little enough to hitch a ride on a quadcopter drone.

When artists and astrophysicists join forces, the result is a more beautiful, detailed visualization of the three-dimensional nature of galaxies.

Puff deigned to stop by my workbench, where we were trying to track down exactly how we'd miswired our resistivity meter, before heading back off to investigate more exciting projects.

Puff tries on fingertip sensors, but learns that his fluffy innards are utterly without a pulse.


This was my second time attending a Science Hack Day, and it was once again an absolute blast. I cannot encourage you enough to participate in one, or if nothing is scheduled for your hometown, planning one yourself.

Puff gave his brain a break by joining palaeontologist Trevor Valle and neuroscientist Erik Peterson as a bartender while debating the horrors of a bioengineered Chickensaurus.

Thank you to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for subsidizing my travel, and to Ariel Waldman and her team for once again putting on a fabulous event. All images credit Mika McKinnon