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MSc Digital Design student Zoe Müller, is celebrating after winning first place in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) COVID-19 48-hour hackathon alongside team mates from across the world.

11th June 2020
Computing and games

We caught up with Zoe to find out more about the hackathon and the solution her team came up with; and find out what advice she would give to others wanting to take part in hackathons.

Hi Zoe, tell us a bit about the MIT Covid-19 hackathon:

The hackathon was organised by MIT and together sponsors mentors and participating teams tried to find a solution for life after the pandemic. These were then divided into eight sub topics which applicants had to choose prior to joining. During the two days, over 2,000 international hackers joined the challenge to combat and prevent a future crisis.

Why did you decide to take part in this hackathon?

During the lockdown I was attending webinars, trying to educate myself more about current events, and at the same time keeping myself occupied to stay positive. However, this was not enough and I didn’t feel like I was able to change anything. I did some research and found the hackathon organised by MIT, which is one of the most elite schools in the USA. I saw that they had previously done a COVID-19 hackathon in April. This was the second one, which was more focused on mental health after the pandemic and very applicable to me and the people in my surroundings.

I am very passionate about this topic and I also needed motivation to overcome my own concerns about life after this crisis. I quickly realised that this was a project for me and I could actually be part of a solution, which would have a serious impact on society.

Who was in your team?

Our team consisted of six members, including myself. In addition to our diverse backgrounds we were also living in five different time zones: England, India, Canada, USA and Spain. My team included a OCaml programmer; a high-school student majoring in journalism and organising concerts for senior homes in California; a project manager; a finance and business student; a data scientist working in the energy sector; and myself, an MSc Digital Design student.

Firstly each participant had the opportunity to pitch their idea to fight the pandemic. Afterwards, anyone interested in the idea could join a Slack channel for this specific solution. This is where we all met for the first time. We then communicated through Zoom and Slack over the entire weekend to prepare for our final presentation on the Sunday. A big challenge for us was being spread across the globe. We took turns sleeping and developing our project and were able to finish in time. 

Picture of members of the Elder Wand team, 6 people featured

What solution did you come up with?

A worldwide problem we identified is that seniors living in residential or single homes are often very lonely. Due to COVID-19 they are also not allowed any visitors. Therefore our team developed a platform, where the elderly can connect virtually to communicate and combat their loneliness. Our solution would provide virtual events and chat rooms where young and old can exchange experiences and stories with each other. ‘Elder Wand’ is a website that gives seniors the opportunity to share and listen, without jeopardising their health.

A prototype has already been designed for Elder Wand. The next step will be to work closely with MIT to continue our idea and implement this in the market.

What advice would you give to other students interested in taking part in hackathons?

My advice to anyone is to participate in at least one hackathon. It is fun, you develop new skills, it makes a great impression on your CV and you can connect with other people. Even though time is very intense, the result is rewarding and it helps you to blossom. It’s important to do your best and never lose focus on what you want to achieve.

Feeling inspired? Find out more about MSc Digital Design