It’s a sprint, not a marathon
On the 25th and 26th of May, the Pajathon IV event took place in Joensuu. The contest was a hackathon-style event where multiple teams were competing to find the best possible solution to a given problem within a 24-hour period. The teams were free to select any issue they liked, provided it was a humanitarian issue. From unexploded ordnance to waste management, anything was fair game, provided you could argue it as such. After an initial presentation detailing some examples and the criteria with which judges determined the winner, the teams quickly started brainstorming and using what precious little time they had to work out their concepts.
Participating in this event was a great experience for me and the two other students in my team. Initially, we decided to take part in the event to learn and see what we could make of it. After all, none of us have any experience working with humanitarian issues. Two of us are environmental sciences students and one of us studies forestry. This eventually gave us an unexpected advantage, however, as our respective fields gave us a nice mix of skills which could be applied to the issue at hand.
We decided early on to focus on the water supply of a Jordanian refugee camp. As one of the driest countries, getting enough potable water (and keeping it potable) for all the inhabitants of the camp is a tough challenge. Our idea was a method that would utilize the one resource they have in abundance – solar power, and use it as a cheap and constant way to sterilize the water.
We started working on our concept by brainstorming about issues and possible solutions. We came up with 20 or 30 different concepts, but eventually we settled on one of our earliest ideas. We researched whether something like this had already been done before and whether it would be possible in the first place. Calculating expected R&D costs, thinking of cheap ways to distribute and regulate the water, researching local suppliers of needed materials and so on. This work, while different from what we normally do in our respective fields, came very naturally and the atmosphere at the event greatly contributed to our productivity.
After all the presentations were finished, it was revealed that we had in fact won the competition, something that came as a complete surprise to us. According to the judges, our solution was a unique way of applying previously existing technology in a new field and filled all the criteria nicely.
Working on the Pajathon IV event was a great experience for us. It was an interesting diversion from our usual project-based work with the unique challenge of only having 24 hours to produce something. The relaxed atmosphere with friendly competition and organizers, plenty of professionals to ask for input, solid environment (and yes, even free sausages at a barbecue) really stimulated our creativity and allowed us to think out of the box to find new applications for existing technology. The solutions brought up by the other teams were also very interesting to see and I sincerely hope that they get to develop their ideas further.
International trainee, ERDI project
Karelia University of Applied Sciences