Cambridge Hackathon goes virtual and international!

Cambridge Hackathon goes virtual and international!

Cambridge Hackathon goes virtual and international!

Key points:

  • Third Hackathon goes virtual and international.
  • Participants connect from nearly 20 countries.
  • The three-day event brought together coders for collaborative project development.

The third Cambridge Bioinformatics Hackathon, organised by Steven Wingett in the Institute’s Bioinformatics facility, reached an international group of participants this year as it moved to a virtual format this year. The three-day event, which ran from 21st-23rd September, brought together nearly 100 participants to improve their coding skills, develop a project, and network.

The Hackathon model allows people to identify and develop a project of interest spanning the life sciences and bioinformatics, with projects often focusing on creating new software or improving existing tools. People can participate as beginners and learn something new, such as a new coding language, or look to work collaboratively on an area of shared interest.

In previous years, the event has been held in central Cambridge and involved an active community of approximately 50 participants. With the decision to either postpone this year’s event or run a virtual Hackathon, Steven knew that the choice was clear: “Although it was a little daunting to move to a virtual format, I was really pleased to be able to open the Hackathon experience up to a whole new audience. With the ability to join from anywhere, we were delighted to welcome coding and life science enthusiasts from around the world. It was fabulous to bring together a different group of people and it’s definitely the most successful Hackathon we’ve run to date.”

Registrants for the event came from (in order from most to fewest): UK, India, Nigeria, Uganda, Bangladesh, Ghana, Italy, Ukraine, Egypt, France, Hungary, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Russia, Sweden, Turkey and South Africa.

A highlight of the event this year was the enthusiastic participation of the OpenVirus team, an initiative aiming to bring together young Indian scientists to develop a knowledge and resource hub for information on viruses presenting a threat to human health, including COVID-19.

“It was amazing to be a part of the Hackathon! I got to learn loads of new things, meet and interact with wonderful people. Thanks to you and your colleagues for all the efforts.” Shweata, OpenVirus team

As a result of the Hackathon, over 70 projects were created and developed over the duration of the event. Some of these projects are available to browse on the event’s website, with projects and recaps from previous events available on the F1000 open publishing platform (2018 Hackathon and the first Hackathon in 2017).

“As a participant in the Hackathon, I worked with another attendee to develop a command line interface tool with python to download tumour and version specific datasets from a neoantigen database. The event was amazing, it was such a fun learning experience.” Abdullah, undergraduate student participant, Bangladesh

The event wasn’t just about projects, but also about bringing people together. The schedule included participating in virtual coffee breaks, promoting the development of social connections, and evening entertainment was provided by a bioinformatics-themed quiz.

Before disbanding, participants shared their Hackathon projects with the other participants. Steven commended the participants’ professionalism and commitment, and the products of this year’s Hackathon are available to browse on the Cambridge Bioinformatics Hackathon YouTube channel.

Excitingly, virtual participation is something that will be rolled into future Hackathon events. “This year brought home to me the countless individuals who are willing and certainly more than able to contribute to science, and with a laptop and an internet connection this is now possible,” reflected Steven. “Geographical separation from centres of excellence such as Cambridge is no longer a barrier to doing great collaborative work.”


Notes to Editors

Press contact

Dr Louisa Wood, Communications Manager, Babraham Institute,

Image description

Map of Hackathon participation

Hackathon organiser

Steven Wingett, Bioinformatician, Bioinformatics facility

About the Babraham Institute

The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities.