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Waterhackweek: Applying data science to water challenges


September 23, 2020

Ideas were flowing during the second annual Waterhackweek. For CEE master’s student Valerie Chang, the intensive week-long event resulted in new data science skills that can be used to problem-solve pressing water resources issues. 

“A big part of my learning was figuring out how to use GitHub and JupyterHub,” Chang said about using new software development platforms and data analysis tools. “I hadn’t used them before, but now I can see myself using these for data sharing and collaborative data projects in the future.”

To help brainstorm ideas during Waterhackweek, participants used an online platform called Yotribe. Each circle represents a table at a conference, where visitors video chat.

Held virtually from August 31-September 4, Waterhackweek was attended by about 40 participants, half of whom were students from various disciplines. Hosted by the UW eScience Institute, the event is geared toward graduate students, researchers and water science professionals. Gaining in popularity in recent years, hackweek events foster the exchange of ideas, provide training in data analysis tools and methodologies and allow participants to hone their new skills while working on collaborative projects.

During Waterhackweek, participants divided their time between tutorials and group projects. After pitching project ideas, participants formed five teams and spent the week applying their new skills to projects such as trying to understand how wastewater data can be used to predict viral trends specifically for COVID-19, and evaluating the health of a watershed in Oregon by analyzing snow and groundwater data.

“Waterhackweek at its core is a training event, but there's always the possibility that a project could continue after the hackweek and lead to the development of new tools or methods for working with water data,” says CEE graduate student Steven Pestana, student director for the event.

Originally planned as an in-person event, Waterhackweek was postponed prior to pivoting to an online format. In order to help facilitate an interactive environment, the event organizers relied on various online meeting and chat tools.

“It was especially difficult to replicate the spontaneous interactions that spark ideas at these hackweeks,” Pestana says. “We used a platform called QiqoChat to allow everyone to move between virtual breakout rooms, and a lot of valuable conversations also happened in the Slack channels.”

The 2020 Waterhackweek seminars and tutorials are available to the public via the eScience YouTube channel