Arcadia’s First Hackathon: Science Communication!

How do we ensure that the experiments we’re running — both in and out of the lab — maximally contribute to scientific progress?

By Lauren Richardson
18 Jan 2022

If you talk to Prachee and Seemay about their vision for Arcadia, they’ll always emphasize that what we’re building and doing is not meant to be solely for the benefit of Arcadia itself, but for the greater scientific endeavor and community. So how do we ensure that the experiments we’re running — both in and out of the lab — maximally contribute to scientific progress? The answer is, of course, through communication.

We need to share our scientific thinking, results, data, methods, and technologies in new ways that provide a richer, more dynamic resource than the established mode of scientific communication: journal articles. But even beyond our scientist-to-scientist communications, we need to share what we are learning and generating to a much wider audience — including scientists in (currently) unrelated fields, students of all ages, the scientifically curious, funders, philanthropists, public servants, and more — to truly make the most of the opportunity we have at Arcadia.

This is where our first hackathon comes in. We needed to find a team of people to help tell these science stories and to put them in an accessible context. In this post, we lay out how we’re using hackathons as a way to unearth talent and experiment with different modes of determining whether a candidate is the right fit for our company.

Our “sci comm” hackathon had three steps: first, candidates submitted their portfolios for assessment. Second, the top candidates were asked to create a short blurb (in their favorite medium) based on the Arcadia mission, to test their ability to describe biological phenomena engagingly and succinctly. Third, the final five candidates were asked to create a longer-form piece (again in their choice of medium) based on a recorded interview between Prachee and myself about Prachee’s research and model system, Chlamydomonas (you can watch the full interview here), to test their skills at identifying and developing compelling a narrative based on a conversation with an Arcadian scientist.

We were so blown away by the creativity and skills demonstrated in each of the final submissions that we’ve decided to share them all, and more importantly, to continue working with all the finalists on a freelance basis to create more pieces on the amazing science being done both at Arcadia and in the larger non-model research community.

We did select one winner: Aaron Alcala. Aaron is a fifth year PhD candidate in Genetics at the University of Georgia where he studies how genes are regulated to build appendages (like limbs and external genitalia) during development. Aaron definitely understands the challenges — and vast benefits — of working with non-model organisms, as he’s worked with embryos of mice, lizards, snakes, turtles, and even alligators in the lab. In his spare time, Aaron produces educational content for use both inside and outside of the classroom, and enjoys photography, cooking, hiking, tennis, and playing with his cat, Tofu. Check out his awesome video submission “One Cell to Rule Them All: Chlamydomonas” on our YouTube page!

And check out all the final projects, presented here in alphabetical order. A huge thanks to all of the finalists, to everyone who applied and participated, to Arcadia staff for voting, and to Seemay and Prachee for, well, EVERYTHING!

Kelly Montgomery is a Detroit native and currently a chemical biology PhD candidate at UCSF. She studies neurodegeneration, specifically how and why tau — a protein linked to neurodegenerative disorders — misfolds. When she’s not researching the fundamentals of tau protein aggregation, you’ll likely find her doodling in a coffee shop, or behind a camera capturing memories with friends. Check out her illustrated blog post “Keepin’ up with Chlamy: A single cell with infinite value”!

Justine Pinksey earned her PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan. She’s currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where she uses fancy microscopes to study tiny machines inside various weird and wonderful cells. Originally from Michigan, Justine enjoys being outdoors, makin’ stuff, and spending time with her fabulous family and friends. Check out her video “Actin up at Arcadia”!

Fayth Tan is a PhD candidate in biology at Caltech studying the evolution of animal regeneration. When not attempting to replicate 19th century experiments in the lab, they like to dabble in weird science history and literature. Check out their blog post “Actin, algae and answers in search of a question: a perspective on emerging systems in biology”!

Ana Wang grew up in Cocoa Beach, Florida and attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she majored in biochemistry. Her PhD is from Scripps Research and she’s developed proteomics methods for studying the human distal gut microbiome. Ana works full-time as a scientist and writer at a biotech in San Diego and part-time as a yoga instructor. Check out her blog post “Algal Architecture”!


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