Two weekends ago, I flew up to Palo Alto to attend Science Hack Day. It was a two-day event held at the Institute for the Future. Apparently, the concept of Science Hack Day first sprung during a panel on open science at this past SxSW, which funny enough, I attended! The first Science Hack Day was done in London, England in June 2010.

There are going to be official write-ups of the event by the organizers, so I don’t want to be redundant and rather talk about the project I participated in and what I got out of the Hack Day.

I worked with Dawei Lin on making a LED display for DNA sequences. The 4 nucleic acid bases would be represented by 4 different colors: red, green, blue, and purple (made from red and blue). The lights were programmed by Arduino to blink and move. We would be able to pass through any DNA sequence and embed it into a decorative piece to draw awareness to the concept of “wearing what you are”. Dawei had fiddled with the idea for 2 hours previously and brought some materials. While the project is simple to any electric engineer, us two biologist had much to learn. Luckily, many people at Science Hack Day were experienced with circuits and Arduino, so we had lots of help along the way. We started with this:

… and spent the rest of Saturday building it up to this:

The next step was originally to embed it into a DNA hat that Dawei’s wife made, but that would have been impossible with the materials and amount of wires our circuit required. So, the easier idea was to make a tie. Instead of using an actual tie, we ended up making a duct tape tie from watching a YouTube video made by an 8-year-old. It was great!

We attempted to make smaller circuits that we could place right behind the tie like this:

Unfortunately we did not have enough time to finish them and we were unable to make all the lights we wanted to (which was 48). We ended up with just 8 lights. (The print material around it was to hide the breadboard and all the wires.)

What was the sequence on the DNA tie, you may ask? It was a 24-base long sequence that when translated spelled out S-C-I-H-A-C-K-D. Here was our infograph:

What I got out of Science Hack Day

1) I met a lot of awesome people doing awesome things! :)

2) I’ve never done anything electrical before, but after this experience, I feel confident building my own circuit on a breadboard (not sure about the soldering part yet).

3) This was also my first experience with Arduino after hearing people rave about it for years. It is indeed very simple, cheap, yet powerful. The community around it seems great too.

4) I’ve decided, for an upcoming project, to use Arduino to power some kind of LED accessory for my wedding dress.

5) Finally, I love the concept of Hack Days. It draws together all kinds of talent to collectively put together projects that people have been thinking about but never had the time to do. Conference after conference, they are all about talking and spreading ideas, but here we finally implement those ideas and build something to share with the world. Even the seemingly small projects are contributions toward innovation, education, and the future. I want to be a part of this synergy… and might be bring it to San Diego! (*hint hint*)

More Coverage of Science Hack Day

BBC radio segment by @RadioKate! (20:55 minutes in)

Hack me with science: a look back at Science Hack Day SF

We have lift-off! Science Hack Day SF 2010 by @arielwaldman

Pictures: mine, Flickr group


A few months ago, Gabe asked if I wanted to be a part of the Tamper Evident Contest at ToorCon. This type of event was first held at DefCon this year. Not knowing at all what I was getting into, I said “yes”.

The contest challenges whether “tamper evident” devices are as secure as they claim. Such devices include stickers that leave a layer when ripped off, envelope seals, and zip ties. Furthermore, it is not only necessary to defeat the security measures, but also to conceal everything as if nothing was done (which is the harder part).

We received this box at 10 am Saturday morning and had until 1 pm the following day to return it fully intact. And so the hacking began…

Turns out most stickers can be taken off with isopropanol and will remain sticky for quite a while. Within the big container where 4 more:


In one paper bag was a chain of various locking devices. All the devices needed to be moved from the metal chain to the yellow plastic chain. This drained over 7 hours of our time and the help of many (and still was not completed fully).


To my delight, in one envelope was the following. This was totally perfect for me!

The small black box was a circuit. Luckily almost everyone else had electric engineering backgrounds.


And of course there were all kinds of codes, including a CD with a passworded RAR file.

By 1 pm Sunday, we had everything sealed back up as if nothing had been touched.


We didn’t crack everything and missed a bunch of bonus points, but ended up getting first place! Our team consisted of Gabe, Brandon, Declan, the artistic Nonie, and pretty much everyone who hung out, gave suggestions, and fiddled with us. It was a great experience!

This event is filled with scientific inquiry and technological manipulation. One must carefully observe the nature of the devices, decide on the right tools, and execute with extreme care and precision. Practice often makes perfect. Our cohesive teamwork and openness to others were highly beneficial. All of these characteristics really appeal to the scientist in me.

Documentation blog: http://covertpenetration.posterous.com/
All photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gebl/sets/

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