Can an eclectic mix of hundreds of students brought together to work against the clock come up with technological solutions to the world’s environmental problems?

Lucy Sherriff asks this question in an article on the Deutsche Welle website. More than 500 people turned up for the Santa Cruz event, grappling with problems presented at the start in categories such as sustainability and earth conservation technology, mental health and social justice. Now let’s hope they succeed.

 

Hackathons: An inclusive way to tackle the climate crisis?

Can an eclectic mix of hundreds of students brought together to work against the clock come up with technological solutions to the world’s environmental problems?

It was around 3 a.m. on a weekend night in mid-January. Hundreds of bleary-eyed students at the University of California in Santa Cruz huddled in small groups whispering urgently. They tapped away at their laptops, poring over complex-looking diagrams, equations and flow charts.

The hallways around them were littered with more students in sleeping bags taking turns to nap before refueling on coffee and snapping back into action. They’d been working since 5 p.m. the previous evening and had just 12 hours left to finish their projects in time to present them to a panel of experts.

But they weren’t working against the clock to pass some exam; they were there by choice, to participate in CruzHacks— a 34 hour-long hackathon organized by the Earth Hack Foundation.

Sanjana Paul, the 22-year-old head of the organization, described the events as an “untapped model of climate activism.” They attract hundreds of young people willing to work to tight deadlines to come up with technical solutions to environmental problems, and Paul hopes they will provide solutions to some of the most pressing global climate issues.

Breaking down barriers

More than 500 people turned up for the Santa Cruz event, grappling with problems presented at the start in categories such as sustainability and earth conservation technology, mental health and social justice.

It was the fifth hackathon organized by Paul since she started in 2018. Some solutions devised along the way have been developed further. One group at CruzHacks was accepted into its university’s pre-accelerator program to create a prototype of its “Spore Stickers” — stickers infused with mushroom spores to help cardboard decompose more quickly, while simultaneously detoxifying the soil.

Other projects at previous hackathons have included smartphone sensors that reduce e-waste, smart thermostats to encourage energy saving, and moss filters to purify air inside buildings.

Inclusion is a central value for the events. “I wanted to break down entry barriers to people who are usually excluded from environmental innovations spaces, for example low income and ethnic minority communities,” said Paul, a former engineering student who now works as an atmospheric science software engineer.

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