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Earlham's Hackathon is student organized initiative to address environmental issues with computer code.

Earlham “Hackathon” to Address Climate Trends

April 26, 2013

Computer science majors Ivan Babic ’13 and Elena Sergienko ’13 have organized a “Hackathon” that will bring together 25 computer hackers and environmental scientists from several colleges and universities to write computer code to study long-term climate trends.

The group will take over the Observation Room of Earlham’s Athletic and Wellness Center beginning at 1 p.m. on April 27, 2013, and write code (or “hack”) for 24 hours straight.

The group will be part of Earlham’s edition of “Code for Good Hackathon,” a concept developed by the technology company Intel, to encourage students to develop software capable of addressing significant problems during a one-day marathon session.

Hacking, Not Cracking

Associate Professor of Computer Science Charlie Peck, Ph.D., advises not to confuse the definitions for hacking and cracking.

“Hacking is figuring out how something works, often by taking it apart, and then using that knowledge to do something clever or useful,” Peck explains.

“Cracking is using those same activities for nefarious or illegal ends.”

Earlham’s Hackathon hopes to address the problem statement “Use technology and the power of visualization and geo coding to show the location of specific long term climate trends.” Seniors Babic and Sergienko began organizing the event after receiving encouragement to do so by Intel representatives at the Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education 2013 conference in March in Denver.

Students Take the Lead

“When we got back to Earlham, we visited almost all academic departments explaining the Hackathon and asking for theme suggestions,” Babic explains. “In a few days we had a huge list of amazing and completely cool ideas. As a product of many emails and calls, we chose the theme and problem statement.”

Geoffrey Fox, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and Informatics at Indiana University and a noted ice-sheet scientist, will present a short lecture about climate change focusing on shifts in climate trends over time throughout the world emphasizing its influence on temperature, C02, ice cap melting, etc. Fox will also deliver relevant documents to help students understand the problem essentials and further help them begin thinking about ways to approach the issue.

Brad Hill, Intel’s HTML5 Application Engineer, will then give a one-hour long crash course on HTML5.

“Once Brad is done, students will jump in making an application that will address issues Professor Fox talked about, integrating them with our problem statement,” says Babic. “Coding for 24 hours is exhausting, so we are going to provide many ways students can take a rest and entertain themselves.”

Small Department, Big Impact

Babic says that he feels privileged to study computer science at Earlham and to be a part of LittleFe, a complete six node Beowulf style portable computational baby cluster that has enabled faculty at more than 100 schools to include parallel programming as part of their curriculum.

Earlham’s Hackathon will use the LittleFe platform as servers.

“We are a very small department but extremely active through many research and applied groups,” he says. “From my freshmen year I have been heavily involved with the LittleFe project, which is sponsored by Intel for the last two years. This allowed me to bridge theory learned in class with practice. Earlham students attend many conferences where Intel is present and trhough them and the LittleFe project, we have developed a special relationship. I believe that Intel recognizes the hard work of the Earlham students and it is truly a great honor to this Intel sponsored Hackathon.”

Paul Steinberg, Student Community Manager for Intel Software, also will be on hand for the Hackathon, which will have live Intel web coverage featuring video updates and progress reports by participants.

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