SGAC Virtual Hackathon
Attendees and tutors at the SGAC/DARA Big Data virtual hackathon, December 2020
At the end of 2020 DARA Big Data worked with members of the African chapter of the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) to put together a fully virtual hackathon, using Zoom for presentations and IDIA’s Ilifu research cloud as the computing platform. SGAC is a global network for students and young professionals who are interested in the space industry; the hackathon was a promotional event for their upcoming African Space Generation workshop (AF-SGW) to be held in Accra, Ghana in February. Two key organisers of the workshop were Kingsley Ahenkora-Duodu, a DARA Project astronomy PhD student at Leeds University, and Charles Nzeussi, a risk engineer from Cameroon with a passion for space. DARA Big Data worked closely with Kingsley and Charles to plan the hackathon, which was open to all African SGAC members. 36 participants from 13 African countries were selected to take part and were grouped into 9 international teams. A pre-event was held in late November to give an overview of the hack and introduce team members to each other.
The hackathon itself began on Tues 1st Dec with presentations; SGAC Africa regional coordinators Iliass Tanouti and Rania Toukebri gave an overview of the SGAC, followed by talks on data science and careers from Prof Anna Scaife and Dr Carolina Odman-Govender. Dr Bruce Bassett then talked about the many applications of machine learning before Dr Tawanda Chingozha closed the first day with his presentation on science and global development. Hackathon tutorials started the next day; teams could select to work on either an image classification project or a COVID19 Twitter sentiment analysis project. Both of these projects were put together by Dr Nikhita Madhanpall, who works jointly with both DARA Big Data and the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) to plan and deliver data science learning events across Africa. Tutorials continued throughout the day with participants communicating with tutors and each other remotely; milestones were set to ensure that everyone was progressing at the same speed.
The second day of the hack resumed tutorials before all teams started work on their final presentations, using their data to answer a research question that they set themselves. At the end of the day presentations were given on Zoom to a judging panel. All of the presentations were very impressive, however two of them really stood out. Team Black Panthers (Raphael Orinze Akere from Nigeria, Vukile Ngubane from South Africa and Emmanuel Ngonga from Zambia) put together an excellent image classification analysis of Machine Learning for security and commerce and took the second place spot. Team Amazons (below) used Twitter data to present a thorough and detailed sentiment analysis on the COVID19 vaccine; judges unanimously agreed that they were the winning team overall. The hackathon finished with a valuable Ask Me Anything session with participant questions related to data science, Python and academia.
The prize for the winners was a place at the AF-SGW in Ghana with fully sponsored travel costs (flights and accommodation); the runners up received workshop places and accommodation. In addition the OAD agreed to send telescopes to all members of the top placed teams to develop their astronomy skills. However in early 2021 the COVID19 rates in Ghana and across the continent increased and international travel became much more risky, so alternative prizes had to be found. It was agreed that the AF-SGW would run as a hybrid event to make it as safe as possible, with only Ghanaians attending in person and those from other countries, including hackathon winners, attending online either via Zoom or watching a live stream on YouTube.
The AF-SGW began on Thursday Feb 25th with keynote addresses from Dr Mahama Ouedraogo from the African Union Commission and Juan de Dalmau, President of the International Space University amongst others. DARA Project leader Prof Melvin Hoare also spoke and there were various panel sessions over the 2 days of the event including an Astronomy and Big Data working group which featured a SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) dataset guided by Dr Nikhita Madhanpall. Further details on the event can be found here. Following the event both Kingsley and Charles were nominated by their peers as February SGAC Members of the Month for their hard work in putting the workshop together, a well-deserved achievement for them both.
It should be noted that this event marked not only the first time that DARA Big Data has held a fully virtual event but also the first time the project has worked with so many different countries, with representation from those in SKA partner countries as well as places such as Angola, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.