Hacking the deep sea

At the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, a group of high school girls are part of a program called the Brown Scholars, which focuses on the intersection of computer and natural sciences. Each year, these students take part in a hackathon, where they work alongside industry professionals to solve challenges.


At the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, a group of high school girls are part of a program called the Brown Scholars, which focuses on the intersection of computer and natural sciences.

Each year, these students take part in a hackathon, where they work alongside industry professionals to solve challenges.

This year, the hackers tackled problems relating to different aspects of marine research, including exploring marine biology and the past and future of marine life.

Here's the story.

So we're tonight at the American Museum of Natural History for its fourth hackathon, HacktheDeep.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

So the hackathon is an event that we do once a year, and basically what we do is we find some scientists here at the museum who are working on really cool stuff, and we tell them that if they had a team of six developers, software developers, what would they want them to work on?

And so they come up with challenges, and so we present the challenges to the hackers, and they choose one of the challenges to work on.



And we also have about 30 high school students.

So today, at the hackathon, we're participating in the special high school challenge, which is we're telling the untold stories of women who worked at the museum, specifically in marine biology, so the person we're working with is Dr. Evelyn Shaw, who worked with theology but also curated a lot of exhibits here, and so, yeah, it's really nice to know that we can bring to light some of the stories that maybe aren't told as much, and we can learn a lot about the women ourselves.

So we're in the BridgeUp STEM program, and we are Brown Scholars in that program, where we learn Python, and then afterwards, we have an internship that we take at the American Museum of Natural History.

It's a program that combines coding with science, and one of its main objectives is to motivate young women to choose STEM careers.

During the summer, I was looking for internships to do during high school, and initially I just wanted a science internship, and I found one at the AMH website, and coding was, like, in addition to it, which I was like, 'Okay, I'll do it just to see how it is,' and then when I entered the internship, I discovered a new passion for myself which I previously thought i would never like.

I realized the error, like, this world was moving to a coding, computer science field, and when I tried it out, I thought, 'This is exactly what I wanted to do,' and it kind of made me want to change careers in the future and wanted to make me go into computer science.

Can you guys make a drop page for the another subset...

I think they're all super excited because they get to be at the museum.

For a lot of them, maybe this may be, like, their first hackathon experience, and it's just, like, a really nice place to be, and they also get to see, like, the adults working also on coding, and they can talk to them and, you know, find out more more about what is it like to be a developer.

I love coding, and I wanted to be part of this hackathon because I couldn't pass up this opportunity to work here at the museum and be surrounded by so many wonderful engineers.

Tonight, we have 130 adults here.

Some of those are corporate teams.

There's some larger companies that have a much more organized presence, like, I think some people wearing, like, Sony T-shirts and Goldman Sachs hoodies and stuff, and so they'll, like, send a team, and they'll all work together, but a lot... Most of the people here, it's basically like, 'Hey.

I'm interested in this project.

Here's my skills.

You know, here's what I'd like to learn more about.

Like, let's all work together.'

We were working on building a model for oil spills.

So if, you know, an oil spill happen at a certain location plus 30 days, where we can we expect it to go?

How can we expect it to be divert-- you know, spread out in the water?

What, you know, kind of areas and animals can we expect to be affected by that?

It's 24 hours.

It starts on a Friday with orientation, and then the hackers come back in the afternoon on Saturday, and they code through the night until Sunday afternoon, when they are supposed to give us their projects, and so on Sunday, we are going to have demo day or the big reveal as they call it here, where the hackers get to present their projects.

We're going to have a panel of judges, and it's going to be really, really great.

So we've been here for about 6 hours.

So we're going to be here until 2:00 p.m. tomorrow is when the event officially ends, and then there's from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m., there's just, like, showing off our work.

The idea is there's presentations at the end, so we're going to code for 24 hours straight.

We've been coding, and then every team comes up with, like, 'Here's what we did.

Here's what we've done.'

Show it off a little bit.

Talk about how great we are, and eventually all the, you know, work is supposed to go towards scientists that are working here so that, you know, they have something with their projects they can learn with, which is really awesome because a lot of the hackathons I've been to are competitive, and they're not really meant for anything.

They're just meant to, like, show off your coding skills and win some money and some prizes, whereas this is more collaborative and the idea is we're going to help science, which is awesome.

Marine biology and generally the waterways are not the first thing that comes to people's minds in everyday life, but this project has really brought to light the hard work scientists put into researching a variety of animals and how integral they are to our society and the environment as a whole, and this will, like, allow people to see the hard work they put in and allow people to realize the importance in marine life.

We are just super excited.

We had a really great turnover.

I think it's been, like, the greatest turnover from all the hackathons.

This is the fourth hackathon, so we're... And we added the high school track, so it's really just... It just feels like a really successful event.

I think the Natural History Museum has a particular mission to involve women in science, and at this particular internship I'm doing, they've really emphasized the importance of this topic, and at this hackathon, the teachers and the people are very welcoming to teach us and encourage us to enter this field and learn more about the people who have previously entered the field.

Well, I love the Natural History Museum, right?

Who's going to turn down a night at the museum?

Because that's super cool.

You go wander around a little bit.

But also, you know, I love... I really love the intersection of programming and, you know, these practical kind of computing skills helping scientists that are really deep in academia but also solving the big problems of, like, what is life?

You know, what happens in the oceans?

You know, all these things that people don't really think about that much but are really important to understanding where we came from and what's going to happen, so really cool to be able to, like, help out with that, you know?