2017 Midwest Big Data Hackathon

By Mikael Mulugeta

This September, the University of Iowa will host the 2017 Midwest Big Data Hackathon, a two-day, non-stop software development competition. The event, which will be held in the Iowa Memorial Union, permits students from any university or college to participate and form teams to work on big data projects of their choosing. The projects, or “hacks,” are open-ended and mentors will be available throughout the event to answer questions. The teams will present their projects at the end of the event, and judges representing the university and industry will choose the winners.

“The idea started as part of National Science Foundation Big Data Hubs initiative,” says Ibrahim Demir, chair of the Midwest Big Data Hackathon. “The NSF has created five major hubs for big data-related activities, and last year we received funding to organize the hackathon for the first time.”

Demir says the event can serve as an opportunity for members of communities to generate interest around local problems and have solutions be the focus of projects during the event.

“This year we are trying to connect with Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and a couple of other large communities, as well as the Iowa League of Cities,” says Demir, who is also an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the UI. “People can share local problems they may have with traffic lights or parking limitations and they can volunteer for mentoring during the hackathon.”

In addition to reaching out to various communities, the hackathon will also partner with several UI departments and industry figures. This includes a partnership with the UI colleges of pharmacy and medicine, which plan to create a hackathon team focusing on health and business informatics, Demir says. He hopes that increased support and interest for the 2017 hackathon will bring about improvement over last year’s submissions, which showed great potential.

About 81 students participated in the 2016 event, 65 percent of whom were UI students, while 35 percent were from other Midwestern universities.

IIHR graduate student Navid Jadidoleslam, a competitor in the 2016 Hackathon, worked on a road trip app that uses GPS to show weather conditions on upcoming locations. The app suggests safer alternative routes in case of bad weather conditions based on factors including precipitation, wind speed, and visibility.

Jadidoleslam, a Ph.D. student at the Iowa Flood Center, says the hackathon offers a great opportunity to generate practical solutions to everyday problems. The event could benefit people and communities in Iowa by focusing a project on flooding problems, Jadidoleslam says.

Organizers are encouraging communities, organizations, and industries to share big data project ideas for students to work on during the event. For more information about the hackathon and how to get involved, contact Ibrahim Demir (



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