March 13, 2017


Hackathon participants pore over open data sets on Open Data Day 2017. Image by Luis Ibanez.

by Benjamin Recchie


The University of Chicago Research Computing Center (RCC) marked the seventh annual Open Data Day on Saturday, March 4, by hosting an Open Data Hackathon. An all-day event open to the public, the hackathon brought together almost 30 people from varied backgrounds to explore ways to analyze and use open data sets for the common good. The 2017 event focused on open research data, tracking public money flows, open data for environment, and open data for human rights.

Participants in the Chicago hackathon—one of more than 300 such events taking place worldwide that day—came from both inside the University of Chicago community and outside, including such places as Google NYC, the Open Source Policy Center, and Cornell University. The attendees represented a wide variety of interests and backgrounds, ranging from software engineering to genomics, and economics to the humanities.

The participants worked on six projects: visualizing open data of Chicago, web applications for Taxbrain, open data and virtual reality, the Reddit Data Visualizer, computational methods for analyzing large amounts of genomic data, and exploring the data portal of Cook County, Illinois. They also had presentations from Kathleen Lynch, information technology communications manager of Cook County, who presented the work the county is doing to support open data and the Chicago Hack Night event; Josh Kalov, consultant at Smart Chicago Collaborative, who discussed their work supporting Cook County’s government, focusing on access, skills, and data; and Hae Kyung Im, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, who introduced the Genomic Data Commons Data Portal and her lab's home-grown tool, MetaXcan.

Among the results of the day’s work:

  • A map of red light traffic violations in Chicago, created in Python, showing the intersections where the most red light traffic violations occur.


  • An application to visualize charts on virtual reality devices such as Google Cardboard.


  • Graphical widgets for use with the TaxBrain web application, a platform for accessing open-source tax models.


  • Ways to integrate the Reddit Data Visualizer with other open datasets.


“All in all, the day was productive, entertaining, and educational,” said Teodora Szasz, image analysis and data visualization specialist at RCC, who led the event. “A pleasant time was had by all, and good friendships were founded and strengthened.”

In the tradition of Open Data Day, all outputs are open for everyone to use and re-use. The projects the Chicago hackathon attendees worked on can be seen on the OpenDataDayChicago2017 GitHub pages.