IAM Summer Challenge

2012: Impact of Humans

Can you create an interactive project that shows a relationship between animals and their habitats, and the impact of humans on those habitats? You can use any technology you want - it doesn't even have to be digital as long as it is interactive! You need to base the project on real data (which we give you), but the style and creative solution is all up to you! The format can be a game, installation, data visualization, mobile app, or whatever you envision will best suit the challenge.

Before you see the data, we want tell you that it is big. Really big. In Cook county alone there are 112 endangered and threatened species listed. But don't worry - you don't have to use all of that data. It's up to you to pick the right amount for the type of project you want to create. We want everyone to start from the same data so there is a standard. You can use a small amount, or you can use it all; maybe you only want to focus on a few species, or maybe you want to do a visualization of a big chunk of the data - it's up to you and your team.

The common dataset we are using is from The Illinois Natural Heritage Database

The Challenge

Allow people to interact with the data and develop a deeper understanding of how these animals and their habitats are being impacted by humans. You may use a subset of the data, or the entire data set.

How you and your team develop a solution to this challenge is entirely up to you, but keep in mind the requirements and the judging criteria if you want to win first place in the contest!


  1. Teams must have at least two members, and at least one member must be an IAM major or alum.
  2. At least one representative of the team must be available on June 29th from noon to 5:00 pm for the judging and awards (ideally the entire team will be present).
  3. Projects must be ready to present and files archived on our system by noon June 29th to be eligible for a prize.
  4. Projects must be interactive (any technology may be used however).
  5. Projects may use open source technology or assets, but all non-original materials must be credited and must abide by licensing.


June 29th: Projects are due at noon, presentations and judging at noon, awards given out after judging. You will need at least one person from your team to be at the event to present the project.

Optional events

Three days in June at least one faculty person will be on site at 916 S. Wabash available to answer questions:
Monday June 4th 1:00 to 3:00 pm
Wednesday June 13th 1:00 to 3:00 pm
Tuesday June 26th 1:00 to 3:00 pm


The judging criteria includes:
  1. Was data from the data set used?
  2. Is the project functional and free of errors?
  3. Is there meaningful interaction with the data?
  4. What is the degree to which the work makes it clear that specific animals are dependent on specific habitats?


Dr. Robin Whatley, Vertebrate Paleontologist
Kelly Anderson, Senior Software Engineer, Mediafly
Matt Board, Faculty, Interactive Arts and Media


First place: $500 gift certificate
Second place: $200 gift certificate
Third place: $100 gift certificate
All participants will receive a t-shirt designed by Blair Kuhlman.

Working with Data

The data is grouped by county, so you can pull species from where you live, where you work, or anywhere in Illinois you are interested in. Here's an example from the dataset:

Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus Yellow-headed Blackbird LE 7 2008

Matching the columns to the data in this row you can see that the Yellow-headed Blackbird was last observed in Cook County in 2008, and is listed as endangered.

Scientific name: Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
Common name: Yellow-headed Blackbird
State protection: LE (listed as endangered)
Number of occurrences (populations): 7
Last date a population was observed: 2008


The data set uses LT to specify Listed as Threatened and LE to specify Listed as Endangered. A threatened species is a breeding species that is likely to become a state endangered species within the foreseeable future. An endangered species is in danger of extinction in Illinois in the foreseeable future.

The number of occurrences is the number of populations at a locality in that county (populations are tied to localities, so for example if you wanted to know how many populations total in the state, you could tally the number of occurrences for a species for each county).

Last observed is when a species was last observed in that county.


Dr. Whatley found us a great resource for information (http://www.natureserve.org). We'll walk you through an example of how to use it.

NatureServe Explorer Walkthrough

I like bats. Looking at the information on page 11 of the data (the Illinois Natural Heritage data set that was sent out to all the participants) I see that in Champaign county this bat is listed:

Myotis sodalis Indiana Bat LE 1 2010-07

page 11 of Illinois Natural Heritage data set

I can copy the scientific name (Myotis sodalis) and paste it into the search field at NatureServe Explorer:

Nature Serve site

The results page has only one entry. Clicking the name takes me to information about the bat.

Nature Serve site

There is a LOT of information. Click the expand option to open all the sections:

Nature Serve site

Now I have a good start to learn about this bat! I can see the areas of the US where it is endangered:

Nature Serve site

The range where the bat is located:

Nature Serve site

And I can learn more about the bat in general:

Nature Serve site

I can even see how far a bat generally moves from the roost:

Nature Serve site

NatureServe Explorer is our recommended main resource for this challenge!



Awesome Pirates (First Place)

  • Phil
  • Jesse
  • Spencer
  • Joseph
  • Eddie

Lackadaisical Duo (Second Place)

  • Aidan
  • Kathryn

Mordecai and the Rigby's (Third Place)

  • Christina
  • Neil
  • Dan
  • Nathan
  • Alexander
  • Quintin

IAM Summer Challenge Design

The IAM Summer Challenge design for the t-shirts was created by Blair Kuhlman


What skill requirements are needed?
None! All skill levels are welcome. Just be willing to learn and participate.

How much time do I need to spend working on it?
The month-long time frame doesn't mean you have to work non-stop during the month - it just means that it is slower paced than a 24-hour game jam or hackathon. The amount of time you want to contribute is up to you and your team.

I'm not in Chicago this summer, can I still join?
Yes! You don't have to be on campus or in the city - you can work remotely! It is up to you and your team how you coordinate.

Can my friend from another department join? Can graduates participate?
Each team just needs one IAM person (such as a current IAM student or an IAM alum) so if you have friends outside of the department (or the school) who you'd like to work with - great! If you don't have a team no worries - we are meeting up on June 1st to see who is interested and get the teams formed.

Do we have to build a game?
Nope. You can build any type of solution to the challenge as long as it is interactive.

Can we build something physical?
Yes! Any technology can be used. If you want to build your own version of Optimus Prime, an interactive environment, or a board game that's fine. IAM does have a laser cutter, 3D printers, and other neat tech.

If you haven't participated in an IAM Summer Challenge yet, it's like a hackathon or game challenge.

If you've done one of those in 24 or 48 hours, imagine what you can do in a month!

No skill level requirements - just enthusiasm and willingness to create something awesome.