UMass Amherst Plans Weekend-Long ‘HackEbola’ Event to Study Data on West Africa Outbreak

Nicholas Reich

AMHERST, Mass. – This weekend, students, faculty and staff from western Massachusetts colleges and universities, and others with data skills, will gather at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for a 48-hour “hackathon” to analyze data related to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

“The idea is to have creative minds come together to work collaboratively and intensively to learn about the Ebola epidemic,” says Nicholas Reich, the “HackEbola” organizer and an assistant professor of biostatistics at the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass Amherst. “I encourage anyone who is excited to apply their data analysis skills to sign up and spend the weekend crunching Ebola data with us.”

The western Massachusetts “HackEbola” teams will use raw data from the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDE), an online repository of public data on humanitarian crises. “Participants will be doing all kinds of things, including mapping, developing new or evaluating existing predictive disease models, or trying to use other data sources, such as weather or transportation data, to uncover interesting patterns or signals in all this data,” Reich says.

According to organizations such as Statistics Without Borders and HDE, help is needed to mine and analyze the huge amounts of data and information being collected about the Ebola epidemic “to determine what aspects are most relevant for understanding the spread of the epidemic.”

Reich says, “I hope participants will come away from HackEbola with a new appreciation for the power of collaborative, team-oriented problem solving, and that our combined efforts lead to new insights or knowledge about this devastating outbreak.”

The event begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21, in 1634 Lederle Graduate Research Tower with an opening workshop, including team formation and presentations by Reich and Chaitra Gopalappa, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UMass Amherst.

Optional workshops are planned on Saturday morning, followed by status updates and lunch at 1 p.m. On Sunday at 3 p.m., each team will present a brief summary of their work that will be made publicly available on the UMass-Amherst Graduate Researchers in Data (GRiD) student group website.

Participation is free and open to all, with snacks, beverages and some meals provided. Registration is required at

HackEbola is sponsored by GRiD, the UMass-Amherst Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, and the Western Massachusetts Data Science, Stats, and R Meetup. The event is being held in conjunction with a concurrent function at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Teams at both universities will post their final results online.


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