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CERN Webfest goes online… and global!

The weekend-long hackathon saw participants develop prototype applications under the theme ‘working together apart: accelerating collaboration’


The ‘CERN Webfest’ – CERN’s annual hackathon based on open web technologies – took place between 26 and 28 June. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held online for the first time, and over 400 people signed up for the event from 75 countries across the globe.

Held since 2012, the Webfest brings together bright minds to work on creative projects. Participants work in small teams, often designing web and mobile applications that help people engage with CERN’s research, physics or even science in general.

The theme for this year’s event was ‘working together apart: accelerating collaboration’. Given the global COVID-19 crisis, the organisers were particularly keen to see projects that address the evolving ways in which we work together. Building on CERN’s strong history of international collaboration, the Webfest provided an excellent opportunity to create tools to support the changing ways in which we do science.

Examples of projects developed over the weekend – albeit typically as prototypes – include the following: an online detective-themed science show for school children, a web library of LaTeX equations, an app to assist with urban planning at large research centres, a platform for sharing remote access to lab equipment, a learning-management system and a machine-learning program to help prevent social-media content from exacerbating depression.

A panel of 12 judges, representing a range of organisations, selected an overall winner from over 30 projects submitted. They picked a team that is developing a platform to digitise electrocardiograms of COVID-19 patients, with a view to helping medical researchers better analyse this data. “The Webfest provided us with an opportunity to inspire others and to be inspired ourselves; the event helped us to believe that – through our hard work and dedication – we can work together to change the world for the better,” says Sina Khezri, a medical student in Iran who led the award-winning project.

“It was a privilege being part of the jury for this year’s Webfest,” says Charlotte Warakaulle, CERN’s Director for International Relations. “The quality of the projects was impressive. The participants demonstrated great creativity and understanding of the broader societal challenges that we are trying to address together, all of them showing how much we can really achieve when we work across boundaries for common goals.”

While the projects worked on formed the core of the Webfest, there was so much more to this year’s event. Six workshops were held across the weekend, during which experts from CERN shared important skills and insights with the participants. Members of CERN’s yoga and fitness clubs also provided online exercise sessions, and an online DJ set was organised for the close of the event.

The CERN Webfest was organised by members of CERN openlab and gluoNNet, an evidence-based analysis provider founded by physicists from CERN. Additional support was provided by members of CERN’s HR department; CERN’s IR sector; THE Port, which organises an annual humanitarian hackathon at CERN’s IdeaSquare; Remotely Green, a start-up company created by CERN users that specialises in virtual networking; and others.


A longer version of this article is available on the CERN openlab website, here.