Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Soil Hacks: Can Hackerspaces get down and dirty?

Can we hack and make things from soil? Do we collaborate and discover with soil? And do all of these things fit in the philosophy of a Hackerspace?

Not so soil science: 
Me at Make Hack Void with a tech-themed collage I created 
(thanks Mechatronics Guy for the photo)

What is this 'hackerspace' of which you speak?

Before we go any further... A hackerspace is not a place where a bunch of bad people sit around trying to tap into your computer. A hackerspace is all about open-access and collaboration for creativity and innovation. 

Hackerspaces.org (see article) and Wikipedia (see article) define hackerspaces as being:

'Hackerspaces are community-operated physical places, where people can meet and work on their projects.'


'A hackerspace or hackspace (also referred to as a hacklab, makerspace or creative space) is a location where people with common interests, often in computers, technology, science, or digital or electronic art (but also in many other realms) can meet, socialiseand/or collaborate. Hackerspaces can be viewed as open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and/orstudios where hackers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things.' 

A hackerspace is about making things, hacking (or making things do stuff it wasn't originally purposed for), discovering, collaborating and having fun. 

You can do all sorts of things! Some things I have seen at Make Hack Void in Canberra include: building book scanners; the re-appropriation of old scientific equipment as a Email/Tweeting devices;  clocks and props; art and craft. 

Above all, a hackerspace is about the open sharing of information and collaboration. It is about creative experimentation and innovation. It knows no boundaries and is not confined by rules. Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches are welcome. It is a place where people can ponder, discuss, experiment and create with freedom of ideas and thought. It is a place that drives innovation.

Is there room for soil science in a hackerspace? 

Soil is all about making stuff; like working out its optimal conditions for plant growth. 

Soil science is also about hacking; what is in it, what makes it tick, how can we improve it. 

Soil science is also about collaboration and discovery; working with people to for food security, functional ecosystems and a happy planet.

Soil science is about innovation and interdisciplinary thinking. 

If soil science fits the philosophy of a hackerspace, is there anyone 'hacking' soil? 

Why yes! 

The Perth Artifactory has a makeshift glasshouse with some soil-hacking. They have a member that is keen on soil improvement:

After the 2011 Japan Tsunami and Fukushima Disaster, the Tokyo Hackerspace got involved in monitoring the radiation of affected soil. This included assembling community geiger counters for hour by hour safety checks. They used technical skills and collaboration to not only get data on soil radiation in Japan, but also come up with some nifty ways of doing it too. Hello bGeigie!

For the Great Global Hackerspaces Challenge 2011, the Maui Makers made a Chilled Soil Agriculture demonstration/box. Cold water is pumped through soil to emulate seasons, and thus allow growth of temperate species in tropical areas. This really is something I have never heard of and is well awesome!

Noisebridge is getting involved with UC Berkley on a Deep Roots Irrigation Precipitation System  (aka DRIPS):

And Quelab seems to be doing all-things-soil too! Amongst many other hackerspaces as well...

And what about my contribution to soil science in hackerspaces?

A friend of mine posted to me a DIY Mini Terrarium. I am totally going to give it a go. Then maybe think about some other pet projects of mine. Such as simpler, more people-friendly and cost effective methods for analysing soil. I can see an Arduino being involved there... Or maybe a soil science wiki...

And getting more people involved. Work with others in the space and community members. Drawing on different skills, backgrounds and ideas you never know what may be achieved!

After? Well the sky is the limit!

Keen on soil hacking? Find your local Hackerspace on Hackerspaces.org

Congratulations to Make, Hack, Void (a Canberra Hackerspace) on their one year anniversary! May there be many more years of making stuff, hacking things to get them to do rad stuff, and voiding warranties. And if you are in Canberra at any time, please look us up.


  1. Thanks for this Jess,
    I was reading about "The quest for the $500 home molecular biology laboratory" and thinking "I would prefer a soil lab".

    Recently, I wrote a piece on the application of open source tech and post-scarcity industrial equipment to agriculture (http://perennialideas.ptpc.com.au/weblog/growing-fabrication-anarchie). I'm tremendously excited about all this.

    I'm looking forward to getting home to Perth and connecting with the Artifactory folk. I didn't know about that particular project of theirs until your post.

    Thanks for putting your thoughts out there. I look forward to more ideas on what hacking the soil might look like.

    Chromatography seems like an interesting possibility. The folk at Milkwood permaculture have written up some nice posts on this (http://milkwood.net/2011/11/06/soil-chromatography-with-eugenio-gras/). What else do you think might be in a minimalist soil lab?

  2. Thanks Harry! I'm excited too.

    The guys at the Artifactory are great! You'll love them.

    I saw the stuff at Milkwood as well. Looks good! I think soil lab really depends on the questions you are asking. I was looking into cheaper spec options, and possibly photographic. CSIRO are also working on some solutions too, although they seem to be more high-tech and not sure of the cost.