July 23, 2021

Hurray for UCalgary team’s 'Hip, Hack, Array’ victory

Hackathon team of engineering and science students tackle an issue many students face when researching for projects, papers and exams
The members of Team Void 21 won Hip, Hack, Array in late June. YouTube

A group of University of Calgary students hacked their way to an unforgettable start to the summer.

Instead of basking in the hot sun or heading out on a camping trip, they joined forces to win Hip, Hack, Array. The 48-hour virtual hackathon, held June 18 to 21, hosted students and recent graduates from across Canada and the United States.

It was a freestyle event of sorts, where challengers were able to tackle any problem and create whatever hardware or software solution they wanted.

The UCalgary team, known as Team Void-21, featured Zeeshan Chougle, Rishabh Ruhela, Atharva Naik, Sarthak Sharan, Abhay Khosla and Mohamed Numan.

Solving a problem they know

Team Void-21 knew they would need to come up with something exceptional to capture the judges’ attention, with more than 150 students taking part from schools around North America, including the University of Cornell, University of Waterloo and University of California, Berkeley.

They decided to tackle an issue many students face when researching for projects, papers and exams. “Finding papers that are similar to a publication is one of the most crucial and challenging aspects of researching as you need to manually inspect similar papers due to the inability of software like Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic to accept non-textual input — making the process extremely inefficient,” Ruhela said.

The team’s solution was called ResearchGram, an AI-based tool that leverages machine learning, cloud computing and more, to generate research paper recommendations from over 500,000 documents.

“We created a user-friendly web application which uses state-of-the-art semantic similarity analysis techniques to generate recommendations for users,” Chougle added. “It was based on the input supplied in multiple accepted file formats, like PDFs, audio, video and images.”

The thrill of a victory

The projects were judged on a number of criteria including innovation, user-friendliness, functionality and presentation.

“When we heard the magical words, ‘First place goes to Team Void-21,’ our happiness went through the roof,” Chougle said. “Although we were nervous competing against highly experienced programmers from all over North America, we knew were up for the challenge.”

Not only did they capture the $3,000 first prize, but team members also took advantage of the networking opportunities at the event.

“Hackathons are a great way to meet new people, network with industry professionals, learn new things, flex your problem-solving muscles, and maybe even win some great prizes,” Ruhela said. “It also presented me with the opportunity to work with like-minded people and deepen my knowledge by working as a team towards achieving a higher purpose.”

Mentors celebrate the accomplishment

The team’s victory caught the eye of those back at the University of Calgary. Dr. Guenther Ruhe, PhD, is an electrical and software engineering professor at the Schulich School of Engineering. Ruhe says two of the students involved are part of his PURE Summer 2021 internship program, while another worked with him last year.

“I was very excited to hear the news,” Ruhe said. “This was a competitive call, with more than 50 teams taking part, including leading universities in the United States.”

He adds the team is comprised of five Schulich students and one from computer science.

“This speaks a lot about the talent we have at Schulich,” Ruhe stated. “We have students that are not only good in programming, but also being able to engineer software solutions in teams, and in a restricted amount of time.”

Only the beginning

The team members are now looking forward to using what they learned in that short amount of time towards their classwork in the fall.

“Winning the hackathon was a cherry on the cake,” Ruhela said. “It’s now time to reflect on our learnings, as retrospective exercise is fruitful for the team to revisit the lessons learned, improve our current solutions and grow them further as well.”

And don’t be surprised if you see their names in future events.

“This is just a stepping stone in our journey,” Chougle concluded. “We hope to participate in multiple international coding competitions and hackathons, with the motive of developing innovative solutions to solve day-to-day problems while representing the University of Calgary on an international stage.”