While some students took fall break to decompress, a group from the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Lab at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute sprinted to the finish by participating in a lab-led Ebola Hackathon.

The Computing for Ebola Challenge took place Oct. 3 to Oct. 10 with over 60 participants – half from the university, the other half from online participants.

The Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Lab has been providing decision support by modeling the Ebola outbreak for the Department of Defense since July, but they wanted to do more. Madhav Marathe, lab director, invited graduate students to choose a project that they thought would be helpful to the Ebola response, and they all spent a week feverishly plugging away.

The 30+ graduate students that work in the lab come from a variety of backgrounds, including computer science, public health, economics, engineering, mathematics, and more. For most of the year, they are all working on individual theses and dissertations. However, for this one week in October, everyone came together to come up with a viable solution to combat the Ebola outbreak.

Several people worked on visualizing epidemiological data, which can be very useful in understanding how the outbreak unfolds. One student is creating an Application Programming Interface (API) that will allow individuals to programmatically access the data, making it easier for others to build applications on top of the data.

Other projects created by the lab include:

-Visualizations for field planning and ground level response

-Donor to charity matching tool; with additional capability of volunteer matching

-Analyses of county level data for epidemiological insights

-Python platform for Ebola modeling and visualization

-Tools for Twitter-based Ebola studies

By all means, the hackathon was a success. Students plan to continue the projects they started, perhaps even developing them into their theses. Results of the hackathon as well as the data and tools they used to aid in their projects will be available on the lab’s Ebola informatics resources page.

Written by Maureen Lawrence-Kuether.