Monthly Archives: October 2014

Chytrid Hack

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal

Yesterday, I spent the day outside the city at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, located on a 3,200 acre campus in Front Royal, Virginia.  What a lovely drive (against DC traffic) to engage in an all-day Chytrid Hack Design Session, co-hosted by Alex Dehgan’s new Conservation X Labs and the Smithsonian folks. What a gorgeous campus.
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal
Frog image from Amphibian Ark websiteWhy a Chytrid Hack? Chytridiomycosis is a unique and deadly disease, wiping out over 100 amphibian species in the last few years, threatening up to a third to half of all remaining amphibian species. The chytrid fungi infects the skin and leads to cardiac arrest. Amphibian chytrid has only been recently discovered, and in now in more than in 36 U.S. states and 40 countries. Fungal pathogens, such as chytrid, represent an increasing threat to wildlife. Conservation X Labs brought us all together Friday to talk about open innovation opportunities to crowd source solutions through citizen science, hackathons, or prizes and challenge competitions.

Chytrid Hack: Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Chytrid Hack: Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Representatives came from around the US: USAID, EPA, Gates Foundation, Global Green Growth Initiative, Arpa-E, Woodrow Wilson International Center, Archipelago Consulting, Singularity University, James Madison University, University of South Florida, Ampibian Survival Institute, Wildlife Conservation Society, Penn State, University of Colorado, and more. We spent the day sorting through issues and barriers, then worked in teams to craft a set of options for going forward.


I learned more than I ever thought I needed to know about frogs in one day. I have a new appreciation for the complexity of the issues around biodiversity and conservation. The Smithsonian Institute is committed to conservation of endangered species. We even had an opportunity to see species that are extinct in the wild, including the Micronesian Kingfisher, Guam Rail, and two mating Bali Mynah.

Micronesian Kingfisher

Micronesian Kingfisher: extinct in the wild.

Bali Mynah

Mating Bali Mynah: extinct in the wild

What an awesome day to engage with leaders in the field who are looking for open source solutions. Thanks Alex for inviting me!


Collins, J.P. 2013. History, novelty, and emergence of an infectious amphibian disease. PNAS 110 (23): 9193-9194

Rosenblum, E. et al. 2013. Complex history of the amphibian-killing chytrid fungus revealed with genome resequencing data. PNAS 110 (23): 9385-9390

Rosenblum, E. et. al. 2010. The Deadly Chytrid Fungus: A Story of an Emerging Pathogen. PLOS Pathogens 6:1 (e1000550).

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Filed under conservation, Open Source

NYC Data Hive

Last week, a team from my office ventured to the bustling tech incubator, otherwise known as New York City, to meet with leading female thinkers in the data/tech space. We want to better understand what might draw more women to the  space data table. Among others, we met with Dawn Barber, co-founder of NY Tech Meetup; Hilary Mason, founder of Fast Forward Labs; Sasha Laundy, founder of Women Who Code; Vanessa Hurst, co-founder of Girl Develop It and Write Speak Code; and Rachel Sklar, media darling and mover shaker behind and #ChangeTheRatio.

NYC Skyline

NYC Skyline at 53rd and Broadway

While we were chatting with Sasha, she mentioned the work she’s doing with Max Shron at Polynumeral, their new data strategy consultancy. Now here’s the cool thing. I had just ordered Max Shron’s book, “Thinking with Data: How to Turn Information into Insights” for my dissertation research. I’m in the data analytics phase, and I’ve been looking at different methods and platforms for teasing insights from a mountain of data I’ve assembled on my topic. I love it when work and research collide like this.

I haven’t finished his book yet, but I offer a few tidbits. Before treasure hunting with data, scope out what you want. Most of us do the reverse. We throw analytic tools and processes at the data and wonder what we’ll find. “Starting with data, without first doing a lot of thinking, …is a short road to simple questions and unsurprising results. We don’t want unsurprising — we want knowledge” (Shron 2014: 1). I totally agree. My dissertation is all about knowledge creation. In fact, I’m looking at “Knowledge Alchemy through Collaborative Chaos.” Max states that our search for knowledge is sometimes filtered through a mental model of our own creation, while other times an algorithm can put the puzzle pieces together for us. “What concerns us in working with data is how to get as good a connection as possible between the observations we collect and the processes that shape our world (Shron 2014: 31).

While Big Data is the buzzword of choice these days in the IT world, I learned on my trip to NYC what a truly small data world we live in. The connections between us shape our observations of the world around us. So great to make new connections with awesome and inspiring leaders, and plug into the vibrant NYC data hive.

Source: Shron, Max. Thinking with Data: How to Turn Information into Insights.  Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc, 2014.

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Filed under collaboration, data, OpenNASA, space, technology