IBM and UF host climate change Hackathon

Maia Botek
Saturday, October 30, 2021

Hundreds of students and United States residents are competing for a $100,000 prize pool and the opportunity to potentially revolutionize areas of environmental science.

The University of Florida is hosting a Hackathon in collaboration with IBM that began Sep. 13 until Nov. 29. Teams will present technology solutions to address one of six environmental challenges, including power consumption and agriculture.

“Celebrity judges” could potentially be present to judge the submissions, which range from software to apps, according to Lucas Bockstedt, senior project manager of the event’s logistic platform, BeMyApp. 

“This is one of our first Hackathons at this scale that is so directly focused on environmental issues,” Bockstedt said. “Especially when considering the very large prize pool.”

Unlike other Hackathons UF has hosted, this event has a longer timeline, wide range of project submissions and is open and promoted to students and individuals who might not normally participate, according to Sanethia Thomas, assistant professor in UF’s computer science department. 

“The whole idea is to pair people up-- those who may have extensive experience in computer science-- to maybe someone who doesn’t, or has never wrote a single line of code,” Thomas said. IBM offered participants $200 in cloud credits upon registration to access their online services.

Participants must compose teams of four to six people, which can either be selected voluntarily or assigned through BeMyApp. Teams can be made of students, coders, developers, designers, software engineers, members of agricultural industries, environmental scientists or any U.S. resident who is over 16.

Mark van Soestbergen, director of the environmental consulting firm Carbon Solutions, is one such participant of the challenge who has no previous experience coding but is responsible for creating real-life test environments for his team’s project. 

Van Soestbergen said that connecting the environmental science and computer science industries can be challenging, especially in regard to the processes, technology and terminology that each relies on. 

For example, van Soestbergen and his colleagues in the environmental science field, even farmers, rely on resources such as Microsoft Office, Word documents and email, whereas computer scientists use programming tools, coding and the app Slack for communication and data analysis.

“It’s like learning how to count to 10 as opposed to doing calculus,” van Soestbergen said, referring to the process of familiarizing the environmental science and agricultural world with new technology. “You’re changing somebody’s practice with the land.”

To minimize challenges in communication, BeMyApp, the third-party organization responsible for outreach, publicity, registration and receiving submissions, works with clients prior to events to narrow down language for target participant groups, according to Bockstedt.

BeMyApp has also helped in creating the three judging criteria used by IBM and UF including impact and innovation, challenge fit and feasibility and technical execution that will be used for project submissions. Projects must be submitted by Nov. 29 and teams are permitted to register until the night before.

The grand prize for the competition is $30,000 followed by $20,000 and $15,000 as well as $35,000 in additional prizes. Winners will be announced Dec. 6. 


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Maia Botek is a third-year journalism major and Spanish minor student at the University of Florida who has grown up in South Florida throughout her entire life. As the daughter of a Jamaican father and part-Norwegian mother, an understanding of cultures, diversity and the world around her has always been an important facet in Maia's life which has resulted in a love of the environment, travel and education. She loves spending time outdoors and with friends, especially at the beach, which she loves. Maia is interested in utilizing journalism to educate others on the importance of the Earth's natural resources and ensuring a sustainable and equitable future for all.


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