Nick Brown sat among the bleary-eyed crowd drumming their hands in anticipation at the Agrusa Auditorium in Davis Hall Sunday.
His gaze mirrored those around him, transfixed on sophomore computer science major and UB Hacking co-director Rebecca Ramhap as she prepared to crown the champion of the UB Hacking 2022 competition.
The drumroll rumbled to a crescendo. Then, Ramhap spoke. The entire room seemed to snap its gaze onto Brown, erupting into applause and congratulatory hoots as the junior computer science major’s expression lifted into a delighted, albeit exhausted, smile.
UB Hacking 2022, an annual 24-hour computer engineering competition hosted by the UB Hacking club, ran from last Saturday to this Sunday. Teams of up to four competitors were tasked with writing a code based on a computing concept or issue of their choice and had to submit it to a public open-source repository in less than a day. The event — sponsored by M&T Bank, Stark & Wayne LLC and Blackstone Launchpad — included the hackathon and preceding career fair.
A total of 46 projects were submitted by the Sunday noon deadline, all pining for a cut of the $6,500 prize pool and other individual honors. After submissions closed, participants pitched their projects to a panel of judges consisting of event organizers. Each project was judged on creativity, usefulness, technical challenge and polish.
“I’m very tired. I’m running on like two hours of sleep,” Brown said after accepting his award. “It’s unreal. I’m very happy. I got to do everything I wanted to do to a tee.”
Brown’s magnum opus, “niceCream,” won first place and earned him an accompanying $1,500 check. As a one-man team, Brown developed a “proof of concept” for cryogenically freezing system memory to read stored data on another system. Prior to his experiment, the phenomenon had only been observed in a lab-controlled environment.
“Water Gun Fill-Up Game,” an interactive game parodying the water gun shooting race designed by senior computer engineering majors Dean Radlauer, Gabriel Yengle, Avi Tombak and Austin Reichert, snagged the $1,000 second place prize. Instead of a stream of water, players shoot a laser out of a nerf gun at a phototransistor embedded in a pinhole target.
“HappyMeal,” an AI-powered food conservation application, won computer science graduate students Saj Maru and Tanuja Joshi the third place spot and a $500 prize. The pair cited their shock at the amount of leftover food waste at UB and across the nation after recently joining CDS. Their solution was to create an app that would connect restaurants with leftover food to individuals in need of a meal.
The remaining prize pool was divided among several additional sponsor awards, including the UB Hacking Best Freshman Hack, UB Hacking Failure to Launch Prize and UB Hacking Spirit of the Hackathon Prize, each of which received $500.
UB Hacking co-director and junior computer science major Max Farrington says the event is a worthwhile opportunity for all UB students.
“There are people from all sorts of majors that sign up for the hackathon, and not all of them are in STEM despite what you might think,” Farrington said. “So long as you have an idea, you can use this time to figure out how to make it a reality.”
Prior to the event, attendees also had the opportunity to network with representatives from sponsor companies and other industry professionals during a career fair. Faculty and hackathon alumni floated around the workspace to aid participants and hold informational workshops as they worked.
Two canisters of liquid nitrogen, a RAM stick, two motherboards and some basic ingredients for ice cream were enough to investigate a potential cybersecurity loophole in established notions about data erasure, Brown says, eerily aware of the potentially nefarious uses his program could foster.
“You’re doing basically what I showed [freezing data], or you are a malicious attacker trying to get an encryption key for a storage device out of running memory,” he said. “So, unfortunately, the place where this would be implemented is not the greatest thing.”
But Brown maintains that the concept itself is still intriguing enough to pursue.
“It [RAM] works like a capacitor where you fill up a charge and you have to continually refresh it in order for the data to stay as you expect it to be,” Brown said. “My hypothesis was that if you cryogenically freeze it, you can remove the power, physically remove the RAM, put it in another system, and read it back and be able to get most of the all of the data back from it.”
Brown says he feels indebted to the event’s organizational leads for making the experience as special as it was.
“I’m very grateful, especially for the event staff who have been more than accommodating for me, like the fact that I was able to bring the liquid nitrogen — it’s awesome, I’m very pleased,” Brown said.
Freshman computer science major and Spectrum staff writer Shreyas Sridhar echoed the sentiment, citing the event as a positive experience.
“This is my second time [entering the competition] and it’s the first time in the spring, so it’s a bit of a different experience,” Sridhar said. “But it’s a very welcoming group and it’s pretty fun. It’s very challenging.”
Sridhar teamed up with fellow freshman computer science majors Ria Gupta, also a Spectrum staff writer, and Eric Xie, to develop “Rate My Courses,” a site designed to streamline course selection specifically for computer science majors at UB.
“I think the most important part is you get to work as a team,” Sridhar said. “Most of software development is working with other people. We get to know how you adjust yourself to other people, how we work together.”
Many participants, like Brown, opted to compete solo. Senior computer science major William Krasnov worked alone on “Media Mogul,” a scanner or submission-based index which identifies media content like movies and TV shows. This was his second hackathon, but his first time going it alone.
“It’s a lot more stressful than being on a team. You have to do all of the work,” Krasnov said of his lonely all-nighter — save for a 7 a.m. nap. “I mean, it’s been really fun. It’s been stressful, though. After midnight hits, it’s pure work and it gets draining. But it’s a good experience.”
Krasnov says working solo doesn’t have to mean missing out on the benefits of attending the hackathon, and he offered a word of advice for UB students considering next semester’s competition:
“Honestly, there’s no idea that’s too small, no matter what [projects] come into the hackathon,” Krasnov said. “There’s always fantastic conferences and stuff for presentations, you have the opportunity to network and talk with so many others, like teams and groups and companies.”
Sridhar echoed that sentiment, also advising students not to be intimidated by their expectations.
“There are people who know absolutely everything about extremely complicated topics, and they’re building really intricate programs and there’s going to be people who, like me, are building pretty basic things,” Sridhar said. “No one’s judging you based on that; it’s about having fun and learning.”
Krasnov says there’s no harm done in auditing the experience as well.
“I would personally recommend most students to just go to one. You don’t have to make a full 24-hour commitment,” Krasnov said. “Check it out and maybe if you’re up for it, make something cool.”
Planning for the fall iteration of the UB Hacking 2022 event is underway, according to Farrington.
A full gallery of award winners and project submissions can be found on the UB Hacking Spring 2022 devpost site.
The latest event updates can be found on the https://www.ubhacking.com/ or on Instagram (@ubhacking).
Kyle Nguyen is an assistant news/features editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Kyle Nguyen is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum.