Idea Gamble | Students brainstorm solutions during design thinking workshop on Friday.

Courtesy of Tamara Kamis '22

Idea Gamble | Students brainstorm solutions during design thinking workshop on Friday.

January 28, 2019

Students Revolutionize Veterinary Medicine at Cornell’s Animal Health Hackathon

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Last weekend, free-flowing coffee and the glare of the eHub lights kept the increasingly sleep-deprived Cornell Animal Health Hackathon contestants awake. After three days of non-stop brainstorming, coding and presenting, three groups emerged victorious. 

At Cornell’s third annual hackathon, over 100 students and 66 mentors worked together to solve some of veterinary medicines most pressing issues. The students were a mix of graduates and undergraduates, from universities such as Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania, whose majors included veterinary medicine, business, biophysics and engineering.

The mentors came from both in and outside of academia, from a selection of universities and company sponsors including Bluepearl, Banfield Pet Hospital, PetPartners, IDEXX and Encore Vet Group.

The event began with a whirlwind tour of veterinary medicine by Dean Lorin Warnick of the College of Veterinary Medicine, followed by an inclusion and culture speech by President Brian Garish of Banfield Pet Hospital, one of the event’s biggest sponsors. As a final send-off, Jess Trimble, head of health at Fuzzy, spoke about her work on telemedicine solutions in animal healthcare in the annual Founder’s Speech. 

Soon after the procedural presentations, the Health Hackathon’s IBM design thinking workshop, led by Neil Fishman, chief technology officer at IBM, launched into action and continued late into the night. The participants’ requests for help transitioned from idea selection to technical feasibility to feedback on their pitches.

At the end of the hackathon, each team gave a demo of their projects and the winners were selected. Presentations were occasionally interrupted by one of the six dogs in attendance — it wouldn’t be an animal health hackathon without some animals.

While all of the students at the hackathon were passionate about the opportunity to impact animal health, some got an added bonus: course credit. Prof. Wesley Sine, SC Johnson School of Management, teaches a 50-person course called NBA 6029: Leading Agile Innovation, and attending the hackathon was a required component of the class.

A prize of $2,000 was awarded to the best market-ready product. This year, it went to team “FarmSpeak,” which created a scannable booklet to facilitate communication between dairy farm workers and their employers to better respond to cow health problems.

An award of $2,000 for best veterinary healthcare solution went to team “Stay on Track,” which is currently developing an early detection method for leg fractures in racehorses by monitoring biomarkers in blood samples.

Porter Hall, grad, part of team “Stay on Track,” believed that the biomarkers in horses could be conserved across species, broadening the scope of the diagnostic tool.

“Pretty much what I want to do is begin the research and development process as soon as possible,” Hall said.

The last $4,000 award — for most innovative project and the people’s choice award— went to team “Lean Green Machine,” which developed an ultrasound-based method for moving the water used to clean birds impacted by oil spills.

Vivian Bui grad and team member of “Lean Green Machine” has been interested in helping with oiled bird recovery since her first year of veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I plan on going back to my school and talking to the wildlife veterinarians that I have been meeting with and expressing my idea with them,” Bui said. “I really do plan on continuing this.”