In the context of ImageJ, a hackathon is a coding spree, or if you want, a one or two-week brainstorm session where scientists with programming skills sit together and work in a low-distraction, high-energy environment to advance the software side of their research. Typically, results get accomplished much faster (read: days instead of weeks or months) than without hackathons, because the setting is ideal to discuss advanced ideas with similar-thinking scientists and ideas can sprout much faster. Sometimes, results are achieved that would not have been possible without a hackathon at all.
The "hackathon effect" in effect!
First and foremost, hackathons are fun. The participants like what they are working on, and rarely have the same opportunities to talk to and inspire each other about their ongoing research.
Also, hackathons are the perfect excuse to concentrate on a particular subject without distractions. A lot gets done at a hackathon (see right!).
Origin of the term hackathon
The term comes from the original meaning of hack, i.e. a clever and unforeseen way to use or improve a technical system.
Ever since, OpenBSD held annual hackathons during which OpenBSD was improved in leaps and bounds.
In 2007, the first hackathon revolving around neuro-science was taking place at Janelia Farm. In a sense, it can be seen as the first Fiji hackathon, since Fiji was born in the wake of that hackathon, and probably would not have happened without it.
ImageJ has benefitted from many hackathons over the years: