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A Gathering of Hackers

Twice a year, U-M students organize the very successful MHacks, one of the oldest and largest hackathons in the country. For 36 hours, programmers and coders are in a hacker’s paradise.
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Twice a year, U-M students organize the very successful MHacks, one of the oldest and largest hackathons in the country. For 36 hours, programmers and coders are in a hacker’s paradise.

Startup Q&A panelist Monica Wheat, x’05, the founder and executive director of Digerati Girls, speaks about her experience creating the program aimed at engaging girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.What do you get when you crowd roughly 1,800 students into Detroit’s Masonic Temple for 36 hours on an October weekend? The eighth MHacks hackathon—and possibly the next great tech product or application.

College and high school students from around the country converged Oct. 7 and, for the next day and a half, worked individually or in small teams to build or code projects of their choosing. “The whole point of the weekend is to make sure that people come in and learn something new,” said U-M senior Pavithra Vetriselvan, MHacks director of user experience. “We’ve had people create iPhone apps, Android apps, Windows apps, websites. But we also have a lot of hardware hacks; we even had people build doors and technology associated with that door. People end up coming up with a lot of different things.”

In the past, MHacks projects have resulted in viable businesses. At one of last year’s hackathons (U-M organizes two each academic year), an engineering student from Case Western Reserve and a high school student from California met and developed the first prototype of Parihug. The electronically connected teddy bears allow users to “hug” from a distance via a sensor that detects the hug from one bear and transmits it to the other. Parihug won the People’s Choice Startup of the Year Award at South by Southwest earlier this year.

Since the first MHacks in winter 2013, the events have been held at U-M’s Palmer Commons, Michigan Stadium, the Detroit building that houses Quicken Loans, and North Campus. To devote as much time as possible to their projects, students rarely leave the building, even eating and sleeping at the hackathon before emerging into the sunlight 36 hours later. The photos here give just a small slice of hackathon life.

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