Hack Together Some Science Stuff, Win Money


Ok hackers, it is time to show what you are made of. [Michael] has issued a challenge. He is willing to pay for hacked together science tools that meet some accuracy and price  requirements. You could win money for doing what most of you are already doing. He needs a few specific things, so go to his site to see what he’s looking for. The goal here is to bring scientific equipment down to a price level that allows a broader audience  to access it. Come on guys, it’s for science!

[via Makezine]

24 thoughts on “Hack Together Some Science Stuff, Win Money

  1. He is giving out $400 in prize money though which I assume is $100 per winning entry.

    Thats kinda like someone offering to buy you dinner if you figure out how to invent the food replicator thing from startrek

  2. Not really. He’s saying he’ll cover most of the material costs for the invetion.

    In the comments there people already solved the vacuum pump and the oscilloscope.

    All that remain are the liquid nitrogen generator and the 1000x microscope.

    The microscope seems doable but I don’t know jack shit about optics.

  3. this is stupid, If i put my effort into building a machine that produces liquid N2, I will patten it and sell it for a hell of a lot more than the $100 prize offered, I’m with bob on this. this guy makes no sense.

  4. Producing liquid nitrogen cheaply might be possible. The equipment for liquefying air was done by Carl von Linde quite a while ago. Check out http://www.gizmology.net/liquid_air.htm

    To separate the N2 from the other parts of the air, a fractional distillation rig is required, but I see no reason that can’t be done fairly cheaply.

    Or, presumably, run the first apparatus in a pure nitrogen environment, but the distillation rig is obviously preferable.

    So yeah, good luck “patten”ing a hundred year old invention.

  5. I’m with you, aztraph. If I found a better way to do X, I’ll probably file for a patent, sell it to a company, or form a startup. I’m a little concern that if the idea starts making money, will he demand to share the profits even though you did all the work (in an extreme scenario)?

    I must admit when I read the tidbit on the oscilloscope, I laughed. Since minimum specification are COMPLETELY non-existant (num bits? input range voltage? BW? isolated channels? Fs? extra features? storage of signals? triggering? probes info?), just use the sound card input and find some free software either made specifically for oscilloscope + soundcard use or gnuradio (modify the included oscilloscope to suit). I suppose by list no specs, the one that is the ‘best’ will be chosen as the winner.

  6. The patent is in the effective yet inexpensive heat exchanger. I make beer and if you dont want hazy beer it is key to chill the hot wart as quickly as possible. Most people use copper coils because they are cheap and efficient enough for chilling wart (5 gallons can be chilled from boiling to 70 deg f in about 15 min), but it will still cost you at least $50 to make one due to the cost of copper. For making liquid nitrogen, you probably want something more efficient heat exchanger which cost a lot more. Also, since such a device would likely be small and prone to clogging due to ice buildup so you probably need to find a way to dry the intake air before chilling it.

  7. You wouldn’t be doing it for the money in any case. The projects are kind of boring, but useful and I can see why they need to be done in the name of science. What if people do them and they aren’t shared?

  8. Here’s an interesting observation, he talks about doing experiments along side his kid, this is good, giving kids a taste for scientific method, but that can be done without the excess of equipment. liquid nitrogen is a little too dangerous to use around a child, CO2 is more readily available and will teach them plenty. a vacuum system, is a vacuum cleaner or modify a bicycle pump, and so on. if anyone was seriously interested in doing this, they would develop it on their own, do it better, and cost wouldn’t be as much of a consideration.

  9. your all such capitalists what about open source? having such tools open source will help gain access to people who otherwise would not be involved in science. read what the guy wrote as intro on his page…
    oh and by the way any of you would probably not make one cent of your invention. want to know why? there is a dirty little trick in the industry wich is called wait and get it for free. pattents cost lots of money why buy the patent for a load of money when you can just wait until the inventor is not able to pay the fees and then get the patent for free…….

  10. Snowdruid, damn you are right about the patent stuff. I thought the same thing. Hmmm, what will solve all the problems of the world will start with unmediated free source information. Unbiased, non-profit, information. Information that transcends capitalism. No one wins, but, the goal is to do a little better each time.

    Yea, Aztraph liquid nitrogen burns are bad…. I have thankfully small scars from the said substance (Hutrts like hell!!!) Exposure to eye will instantly cause blindness. Bad containment and a sudden warming of liquid nitrogen could cause a small explosion.

  11. They’re going to have to offer more than $100 if he wants people to put their time and effort into developing something this complex.

    It’s about more than the cost of materials. It would take a long time and a ton of effort(much more than $100 worth even at half of minimum wage) to make any one of these things for the prices he’s specifying.

    Accounting for cost of materials, you’d be losing money to do any one of these. At least find a rich aunt or grandma willing to put up $1000 or something for the award.

  12. I know about patents from working with an embedded engineering firm who applied for some. What snowdruid says is dead on. You want to really see what industry is all about look at interaction points like patents pending and contract agreements. It gets dirty.

    This is with everything though. Even employees try to screw each other in some way from burger king to presidential campaign teams.

  13. @hackius
    thats true however they were talking about making money from the patent so clearly they had commercial applications in mind and yes i know how a patent works thank you

  14. To add to my above comment: I’ve seen people since the thick framed glasses movement started( that conjured the intelligence is acceptable trend thus hacking mainstream) that leads me to believe most of what you see on the internet is for capital through social prosperity including makezine and similar communities.

    All these communities conveniently arrived when there was a market. No group or person built them out of general interest and just one day found they where making money off ad revenue and other stuff. Also do the operators really look like guys who have been in garages and bedrooms coding and soldering the last 20+ years? They look like trust fund babies with geek satire compared to your average kernel dev and engineer who was in the trenches when smart people where generally hated.

    Most of the people at the forefront right now where watching MTV and partying while the real hackers where progressing the IT industry through the 80s and 90s. Most of these people wouldn’t even be able to tell you some significant figure from an innovative developer scene without googling.

    Bottom Line is who gives a s**t..It wouldn’t surprise me if this thing makes the guy some money though; more than the bounty he offers. I’m not going to build refined efficient tools though and give them to some social figure.

  15. @snowdruid

    Open source and capitalism are not mutually exclusive. If I put forth the effort to invent something so useful that it could advance science, surely someone would want to buy it, I sure as hell would not want some other guy to step in and use my idea to make that money without having shared any of the R&D costs. So yes I would patent any such idea as well as open source it for non commercial purposes. Then if joe schmo or a school district wanted build it for $100 then they could do so, the patent would allow me (or the company I sell the patent to) to manufacture devices and sell them for a profit (though still much less than present devices).

    Its a mute point though, I highly doubt anyone would be able to design a device to make liquid nitrogen for less than $200 let alone $100 due to the cost of materials necessary to make a heat exchanger.

  16. I think this is a great idea. I’m appalled at how the government, with their fears of terrorism, have made the pursuit of some science experiments practically illegal. Those that fear for the “safety of the children” are even worse, imho. How are we to learn if we can’t *do* basic science?

    I grew up in a household where the hot water heater was set to 180 degrees F. If you turned on the hot water, you got scalded. Trust me – you only do it once and yet somehow I turned out just fine!

  17. Just a quick correction; his name is Michael Woods, not Wood.

    If anyone has any suggestions about how to set up a proper tax structure to let interested individuals send donations to this cash prize, I’d appreciate it. We didn’t exactly expect even the limited level of interest this has received, and we’re trying to respond to it quickly. Mike’s traveling cross country right now and is a little hard to reach. He’ll be active on the site again on 10/19. I’m covering as the guest admin.

    Also, people have brought up patents; we’re not looking to steal anyone’s work, just to encourage. Any suggestions for how to deal with these concerns?

    The whole point is not to pick up a single something cheap and surplus on eBay or at a garage sale; it’s to design something that could be scaled up such that every household or every schoolchild could have these items. Remember ‘chemistry sets’ as a kid? Mike’s looking for something like this for the modern era.

    I can be reached at montuori (at.) caltech (dot@) edu

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