#SciFoo: That was worth the trip!

By Fabiana Kubke 11/08/2010

I was lucky enough to be invited to SciFoo this year, which proved to be a wonderful experience. SciFoo is an unconference organised by O’Reilly media, Nature and Google. It brings together a group of sciencey people to talk about science, and I cannot describe the level of awesome that I experienced while I was there.

I went well-prepared: I had read the blogs of the attendees who blog, read their descriptions of themselves, contributed to the suggested sessions in the wiki, and showed up with a list of ‘must-meet’ people and ‘must attend’ sessions to make sure I made the most of it.

But (and I learned that this happens after having attended 2 KiwiFoos), I might as well not done any of that homework. Because, apart from a couple of exceptions, I never got a chance to talk to the people on my list. Nor did I end up going to any of the sessions I thought I would go to. Instead, I found myself being pulled to ‘other’ people and ‘other’ sessions. And I guess that is the beauty of it all. Meeting people and hearing interesting things that were not necessarily on my radar.

I started by attending two Lightning Talk sessions, moderated by Nat Torkington. Lightning talks are 5 minute presentations, which were great because it gave me the chance to hear about lots of different stuff and from very different people (which also explains why my original list ended up being useless). I was drawn to the third lightning talks session the next day. There I heard about the relationship between scientists and music from Eva Amsden, what we can learn about people by asking them how they played as children from Linda Stone, neuroscience and law from David Eagleman and many other mind tickling topics.

These are some of the other sessions I attended:

RuleCamp: Basically about rules to follow to do stuff. Carl Zimmer, one of the speakers, summarised the session in his blog, so I will send you there to read his notes (which are much better than mine!)

Brain Machine Interfaces: I seem to have a fetish with BMIs, and the work of Miguel Nicolelis in this area changed the way that I think about the brain. So I couldn’t miss this one (especially since Nicolelis was there too!). I will be writing a bit more about this at a later time, but it is totally worth it to read about his research in his page. Most of all, I was seriously impressed with not only how far BMIs have gone, but how this kind of research is making us think about the brain in a very different way.

Collaborative Science: This was fun, and I mean that in a literal way. Because among other things discussed, FoldIt came up. Yes, you can contribute to science by playing games. And in the process you end up being acknowledged as an author on a Nature paper.

Blogging in a network: This session was led by John Dupuis, Carl Zimmer, Eva Amsen and Jonah Lehrer. Eva has a wonderful summary of this on her blog, so again, I will send you there.

I went to many other interesting sessions and had amazing scattered chats with different people throughout SciFoo. It was great to see old friends and acquaintances, and make new connections. But one thing I learned at Kiwi Foo, is that as amazing as the few days of the event are, what is really more amazing is what happens ‘between’ Foos. There is a whole year ahead, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of it.

(I have to give a special thanks to Nat Torkington and Cat Allman, who I am sure had a hand in getting me there, and also to Eva Amsen for wonderful personal swag from The Node.)