This exciting STEM event, aligned with state standards, NGSS, and STEM curricula, challenges student teams to research and understand the science behind a real-life conservation challenge, then use technology, engineering, and math to create a working prototype of a solution.



Unlike a science fair, at a hackathon, participants work on their project during the event.  For a virtual hackathon, while prior research, planning, and practice is encouraged, numerous webinars with experts will be available prior to the submission date. Photo credit: Elena Olivo Copyright: NYU Photo Bureau


Evaluation and Follow Up

Team projects will be evaluated and rewarded on a number of qualities including implementability, best use of various technologies, best outreach/communication piece, and so on. Following the event, numerous teams and schools may have the opportunity to visit Jennings to work with professionals and test their hack on site.


Across the globe, scientists and land managers need to more accurately predict and determine the movement of various endangered species in order to most effectively manage their habitats and recovery. The 2018 challenge for this hackathon is for students to develop a technological (hardware,software, etc.) solution to help Jennings Environmental Education Center more effectively predict or determine when the endangered massasauga rattlesnakes move into and out of hibernation.** This will help us know when it is safe to conduct controlled burns of the habitat. **No live snakes will be present or handled by students at any time before, during, or after the hackathon. Models, materials, and background information and experts will be available.


Massasauga rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) are a small, shy, docile snake. They are endangered in PA, and federally listed as threatened. There are only 4 places they are found in western PA, including at Jennings.


One of the best ways to protect the prairie – where the snake lives – is to conduct controlled burns. The fire helps to keep out invasive plants, limits the number of trees that can grow, and helps native plants to thrive.


Massasaugas need an open prairie-like habitat, like that at Jennings Environmental Education Center. Jennings has the only managed and protected prairie in PA.


Of course, we can’t burn the prairie when the snakes are active. They must still be hibernating. In addition to people simply walking through the prairie to look for the snakes, we try to predict if the snakes are out based on soil temperatures. But this has not always worked. Some research says they will start to emerge from hibernation when the soil temps are 50F or more. But we have seen them when soils are around 40F!


Massasaugas use the burrow of a land-dwelling crayfish, the Little Brown Mudbug (Cambarus thomai) for hibernation. They slither into the burrow in fall, stay under water in the deep burrow all winter, then emerge in spring.


If we can better predict or determine when massasaugas come out of hibernation, we can do a better job of managing the prairie and protecting the snakes.


Student teams may approach this challenge in a number of ways -- there are very few limitations on their creativity. Students may choose to develop or program hardware to find massasaugas before they go into, during, or when they come out of hibernation. They may create better data analysis, or a software solution that helps us to predict when the snakes may be on the move. Teams could choose to create technological interfaces (apps, websites, etc.) to better collect information from field researchers or the general public when snakes are seen. Students could even choose to creatively communicate about the issue to the public using technology, through games, visualizations, maps, etc.


Informational Webinar

Monday, January 15
11:30 am – 12:00 pm


Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/647105498

Or iPhone one-tap :
US: +16465588656,,647105498# or +16699006833,,647105498#
Or Telephone:
Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 646 558 8656 or +1 669 900 6833
Meeting ID: 647 105 498

Informational Webinar

Monday, January 15
3:15 pm – 3:45 PM
Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/511887313

Or iPhone one-tap :
US: +16699006833,,511887313# or +16465588656,,511887313#
Or Telephone:
Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656
Meeting ID: 511 887 313

Virtual Project Deadline

May 1 11:59 PM
Written and video submissions due by 11:59 PM on May 1. Information to follow on how to submit.


This event would not be possible without the generous contributions of staff and time from these organizations.

Get Involved

Volunteer: Virtual Expert

Share your knowledge with students! Facilitate a webinar and be available to answer questions and give advice on anything from ecology to Arduino to data analysis and more!

Volunteer: Be a Judge

College students and professionals are needed to evaluate student projects, using a provided rubric, on a number of categories, from technical proficiency to collaboration, design, and more.

Sponsor the Hackathon!

Want to encourage students in STEM while gaining exposure for your company, organization, or university? Check out our sponsorship opportunities below! Custom packages available.



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