Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics hosted the Chicago chapter of the NASA International Space Apps Challenge in Evanston over the weekend.
The two-day event was a partnership between CIERA, the chapter’s local leads and several local collaborators, including the Mansueto Innovation Institute at Northwestern Medicine, nonprofits NewSpace Chicago and Code Your Dreams, and companies Archer Aviation and Cboe.
CIERA Associate Director Shane Larson said he pursued the collaboration because it aligns with CIERA’s mission and focus on interdisciplinary collaboration.
“[The Hackathon is] bringing together teams from all over the country, in this case, to work on very interesting and difficult problems, but using their expertise, whether they be computer scientists or engineers, or physicists and astronomers,” Larson said.
The NASA International Space Apps Challenge, founded in 2012, is the world’s largest annual hackathon. The Chicago area established its chapter in 2014 and has hosted the event several times. This year, the Chicago chapter received the second-highest amount of sign-ups in the country, according to Chicago Local Lead Don Crowley.
Participants ranged from Chicago-area high schoolers and professionals to undergraduates at several Midwestern universities. The event empowered STEM enthusiasts from diverse areas of expertise to form teams and work towards solutions.
McCormick sophomore and Space Apps participant Elysia Lopez said her team’s diversity enhanced the collaborative process and brought out their shared passions for solving critical issues.
“The dynamic is definitely interesting,” Lopez said. “We’re all coming from different walks of life, but I think the fact that we all are pretty passionate about building this project and helping the environment. Having that common goal is really beneficial to the team.”
NASA offers 31 challenges for teams to tackle in the competition. Each challenge draws on open data to facilitate innovative solutions.
Data accessibility aligns with the event’s theme, “Explore Open Science Together,” and equips students with real-world data sets, according to Chicago Local Lead Margaret Creagh (School of Professional Studies ’18).
“What I really like about this is that each challenge offers a huge list of resources, many of which are straight data from NASA and other state space partners,” Creagh said. “This is a perfect opportunity for people to be exposed to how data sets work in the real world.”
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