On June 26, computer science students Brent Farand and Richard Mills presented their big idea at the national Undergraduate Big Data Challenge 2019 in Calgary. Competing against teams from the University of Toronto, McMaster University and the University of British Columbia, the MacEwan team performed strongly — earning both of the challenge’s top prizes.
“We were both really surprised,” says Brent. “We were not expecting to be finalists, let alone to win, so that felt really good.”
Teams were tasked with developing a computer-based approach to pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics (how a drug affects the user and how the user affects the drug) of recreational cannabis and related public health and sociological issues using open data sources from Health Canada, the National Cancer Institute and others.
One of the challenges was having so many data sets to choose from, but eventually the team narrowed the focus down to sociological connections, looking at opioid overdoses in the United States (specifically Colorado and Washington where recreational marijuana had been legalized). Through the data they looked at, Brent and Richard could not identify an effect between recreational marijuana and opioid overdose death.
“We were actually hoping to find an effect but ultimately had to report that none was apparent,” says Richard. “One of our proposals was that this analysis should be done again later when more data is made available to see if any correlations become evident.”
During the competition, they received positive feedback from judges and other attendees.“A lot of what we did was really simple analytics, but we presented it in a really easy-to-consume, understandable way,” says Richard. “We spent a considerable amount of time making our graphs simple and yet informative. Even with these simple informative graphs, the first thing we did in our presentation was to explain how to read each part, and that was huge with the judges and the audience.”
Their idea garnered them the Roche Analytics Award for best project and the Scholarly Communications Award for best presentation, and their paper (“Correlation Between the Legalization of Recreational Cannabis and Opioid Overdose Deaths in Colorado and Washington”) will be published in the STEM Fellowship Journal.
“Richard and Brent’s achievements in winning both awards reinforce our belief about the importance of well-rounded education that our department aims to deliver to our students,” says Dr. Indratmo, associate professor of computer science and one of the faculty members who helped bring the winning team together. “Their achievements show the quality of our students and programs as an undergraduate-focused university.”
Fun and games
Working with the Edmonton Public Library, computer science students demonstrated their fun, engaging memory games for kids at the Mill Woods branch.