By Jennifer Sloane

If you go to twitter, you can see that #dataHackEd was trending just a couple of weeks ago. But what does dataHackEd even mean? What was all the buzz? It may be helpful to start with a definition of hacking: “Computer hacking refers to the practice of modifying or altering computer software and hardware to accomplish a goal that is considered to be outside of the creator’s original objective.” (definition from https://cyber.laws.com/hacking)

The Australian Data Science Education Institute hosted the first ever “Resource Hack Day” on March 27th 2019 in Melbourne. The purpose of the event was for teachers and “hackers” with an interest in data science education to come together and brainstorm ways to support education from primary school to Year 12. The twitter hashtag is, therefore, a play on data hacking for educational purposes.

While the main event took place in Melbourne, with help from Dr. Jenny Richmond, we organized and hosted an event at UNSW and participated remotely. Our goal was to create resources that teachers can use to help students to visualise, analyse, and interpret big datasets. At first, I thought this seemed like a very daunting task and didn’t even know where to begin. However, we had an incredible team of 6 enthusiastic researchers that were eager to get started. We all agreed to work with a dataset that looks at the trends of baby names across different states in Australia.

We spent hours analysing and trying our best to fully understand the dataset… which is not such a simple task considering there are 252,358 rows of data! You can see some of the cool graphs we created on this page using excel and two programming languages (i.e. Python and R). And if you are interested, you can check out the interactive website (https://j-sloane-92.shinyapps.io/babynames/) I created to help visualize this huge dataset. Although, as you can see from the website, I may have been biased in choosing a few of the “best” names (I’m still working on how to include all 57167 names without it crashing). Aside from creating visualizations, we spent time typing up notes, key findings, and step-by-step guides that may be useful for teachers with little to no programming experience.

An example from the interactive website of the popularity of the name “Jenny” between 1950-2000.

Hack Day was a huge success in both Sydney and Melbourne. People were working on several different projects and datasets in a shared space, so now everyone has access to all of the material. We had such a great time in Sydney, we are already planning our next Hack Day. Additionally, one of my long-term goals is to organise and run workshops at local high schools with our new resources to teach younger students all about data science in a fun, interactive, and engaging way.

If you are interested in getting involved in any way, please contact me directly (j.sloane@unsw.edu.au).

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Nicole Green: Scientist by Day, Chef and Cat Lover by Night

By Jennifer Sloane

Photo by, Peter Rae Copyright UNSW. Photo shows, Nicole Green.

After 5 years of being a student at UNSW, Nicole still doesn’t get sick of walking through the beautiful campus and taking in all of the greenery and open space (at least when she’s not hard at work in the lab). In the lab, Nicole looks at how a cell can turn on and off genes to try to understand the genetic component of Autism. Now we’ve all probably heard of genes before, but what do genes actually do? Genes determine whether you have green eyes or blue eyes or what color your hair is. But, genes do even more! They also control whether or not you have a certain disease. Sometimes a disease can be caused by having too much or too little of one gene. I like to imagine it like as a knob in your car to turn the volume up or down. If the knob is turned too far down, you won’t hear anything, but if it’s turned up too high, you won’t enjoy the music because it’s too loud and painful to listen to. Therefore, you want to turn the volume to just the right amount. So, what does this mean in Nicole’s research? She looks at brain cells to try to understand how cells turn on and off genes. She is specifically interested in looking at genes that are linked with Autism to try to learn more about the disorder. How cool is that?! Every day Nicole gets to work with real human brain cells to try to understand the behavior of genes.

After learning some of the basics of her research, I asked Nicole what is her favorite part about her research? She told me that she “really enjoys the problem-solving part of it”. But, perhaps even more interesting, Nicole went on to tell me that “the weirdest part of my research is that we buy human (brain) cells from companies”. Now I’ve always known there are many scientists who study human cells, but I’ve never thought about how they go about getting the cells in the first place? Well, it turns out, just like anything else in life, you can buy them online!

Outside of the lab, you will likely find Nicole either cooking up something delicious or playing with her cat, Gus. Cooking is one of her favorite hobbies, which may not come as a big surprise considering there is a science behind cooking. You (usually) have to follow a certain method, or instructions, and need to make sure you have exactly the right ingredients. However, of course the best part of cooking is eating the food, which you can’t exactly do in the lab. Nicole has also recently started going to an art class on drawing and painting with watercolors. She is very excited to be trying something new and challenging herself in something outside of science. We are very lucky to have Nicole as one of our members of the UNSW Women in Maths and Science Champion Program and look forward to seeing her success inside and outside of the lab!

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