Science Museum Digital Lab Hackathon

Winning team 'Creative Prize'

February 2017

What would you do if the Science Museum and its data were your creative playground for 2 days?

I recently attended the Science Museum's first hackathon for its brand-new Collection Online API of over 250,000 objects and archives. Participants were invited to "spend 2 days remixing, reusing, and reimagining the Science Museum" and "to think creatively about what Museum+Tech can mean".

I was on a team with Sam Cottrell (my PhD colleague from the RCA), Greg Felton (Amphio), Céline Villaneau (digital artist and designer), and Manchi Chung (Institute of Physics).

Photo credit: Mar Dixon

We wanted to build something which offered a sense of the range, magnitude and contents of the collection without a user needing to come up with a specific search query. And, while exploring ideas, set on building a visual installation using collection images.

Photo credit: Mar Dixon

We ended up building a waterfall-visualisation to be displayed using a projector. Every 10th of a second, an image is plucked at random from the collection data and cascaded down around its date on a timeline. The group pooled skills to enhance the visualisation with a background visuals, animations and music.

(Note the timeline's power scale; it became clear early on that the Science Museum's collection largely consists of post-1800 objects. So we skewed the scale and slowed down the speed of older objects to even out the image-density across the timeline.)

The visualisation was designed to enable viewers to serendipitously encounter objects from across the whole collection time-span - and we found it quite mesmerising!

Photo credits: Science Museum, Mar Dixon, Andrew Lewis, Greg Felton

There were a wide range of imaginative projects from other teams. You can read more about them at the Science Museum Digital Lab blog.

We were delighted to be awarded the Creative prize for most artistic, beautiful, and creative use of the Science Museum’s open API.

As described by one of the hackathon judges: This was great for being very simple, but irresistibly compelling through its use of ambient sound and a simple but lovely visual cascade of objects that exposed the collection enjoyably. This could be used for real almost in the state of development after just the time of the hack. (for example in queuing/waiting areas or as an alternative for a hoarding during temporary closure for exhibition refits etc)

Creative Prize. Photo credit: Mar Dixon

Our data-waterfall went on to be exhibited to the public at the Science Museum Lates.

Exhibiting at Science Museum Lates