Imagine scientists working in dark basements, to euphorically run out with a new thought provoking insight or world improving device. I couldn’t help but think of this classical stereotype when I descended into Moscones Centre underground poster hall at this year’s AGU Fall Meeting. We are scientists gathering in basements, although the basement is quite big.

In that big basement, I did find thought provoking insights. But world improving devices were harder to find. They were there already, but hidden on posters that dealt with the results of using these devices. Which is a pity: these devices deserve their own stage!

The auto-start-auto-shut-down-take-pictures-during-rain-camera that Andrew Wickert made was presented in a session on “Postwildfire Landscape Response”. The cave-surface-scanning-hacked-Kinect (a game console controller!) hacked by Kenneth Mankoff was presented in a session on “Observations and Techniques in Polar Regions”. This means that people outside these specialized disciplines will not hear about new sensor methods that might be useful for their own discipline. And that is a shame!

Rain gauge

Ryan Stewarts Resonating Raingauge

In the Hydrology Section, we have been organizing our so called “MacGyver” poster session for 3 years, asking anyone that has tinkered their own sensor or anyone that has hacked or altered existing equipment to use it for something it wasn’t intended for to present their work. Like Colin Campbells NDVI scanner based on using LED-s as sensors. Or Ryan Stewarts “shaking rain gauge” based on determining the change in resonance frequency of a bucket on a stick. Real inventions, still in the “proof of concept stage”. With potential to be used by people in other fields.

In my opinion, which I recently expressed at TEDxDelft, tinkering is a good way of solving problems. Geoscientist are perfectly equipped to be tinkerers. Their formal academic education gives them the analytical skill to solve complex problems. Their outside, field experience gives them the pragmatic attitude needed to “make things work”. If you find yourself in your basement (or your lab, shed, or field site!), working on some new or improved measurement device, consider sharing your work with people outside of your field. The 2012 MacGyver session will hopefully be co-hosted by the other sections to encourage cross section sharing of ideas.

See you in 2012; don’t forget to bring your duct-tape!

– Rolf Hut, AGU Hydrology Section Student Representative