Success of Debrecen University’s researcher in Hackathon

Zoltán Mészár, lecturer of the Department of Anatomy, Histology and Embryology of the Faculty of Medicine won first prize as a member of an international team in the NeurotechEU Hackathon competition in Stockholm. Their task was to find innovative solutions to a problem of young people suffering from mental illnesses.

Researchers and students were invited from European universities to the NeurotechEU Hackathon competition held at Karolinska Institutet in the capital of Sweden. The University of Debrecen sent a team of five to the two-day long contest. Among the delegates was Zoltán Mészár, lecturer of the Department of Anatomy, Histology and Embryology of the Faculty of Medicine. They had the task of working in teams with participants from other countries to develop their own idea with an innovative technological solution that would help in the treatment of an incipient mental illness affecting young adults. Zoltán Mészár cooperated with researchers of the University of Elche, Spain, of Reykjavík, Iceland, of Lille, France, of Bonn, Germany, of Karolinska, Sweden and of Istanbul, Türkiye.

- Our subject was a young girl who suffers from panic attacks and is described as a nerd by her fellows. She studies a lot and performs well, and yet she is always afraid that she is not good enough, which causes panic attacks to her. When you have a panic attack like this, you have to be given aid in a few minutes. There is no time to wait for the ambulance, because you feel you are about to die and you have symptoms resembling a heart attack. To solve the problem of overwork, we designed a mobile phone application. According to our solution, all you need to do is grab your phone, which you are likely able to do, and press a big, red panic button in the application, Zoltán Mészár explained.

The team assumed that the application would alert psychiatrists, psychologists and volunteer helpers who also installed the application and are staying nearby, a few minutes away. They could decide whether to go there to help, call an ambulance or just call the patient to ask what she or he needs, whether the attack is over. With GPS, they would also be able to find the patient.

- Fortunately, we quickly realized that we could not find a solution to everything in connection with the illness, so we had to choose and focus on a partial problem. I think the other teams wanted to solve too many things at the same time, so this is how we succeeded. I didn’t see this super-simplicity in the work of others, nor that their work can be realized as a product tomorrow. Our solution only requires a programmer and it is finished and ready to use, the lecturer said.

When applying for the competition, the participants had to fill out a questionnaire assessing their competences, the organizers probably assembled the teams based on that. Most teams had a senior member like Zoltán Mészár, but everyone did the task as an equal.

- It helped us a lot in developing our solution that one of my teammates recognized herself in the fictitious patient; thus, we were able to better consider what a panic patient might need. It was also an advantage for us that the Spanish and the Icelandic student were experts in information technology, the scholar explained.

Zoltán Mészár has also said that at the beginning of the competition, a mini contest was held where they had to build the highest possible castle from spaghetti and marshmallow in 10 minutes.

- That’s where we failed. We finished last place, because we lacked cooperation. At that moment we understood that we needed a different approach to continue. To achieve success, we needed to respect each other’s values, to be open and frank towards each other. In our team, everybody worked with full effort and humility on the task; there wasn’t a member who would pull out at least a little, and we excluded everything else – he recalled.

Previously, Zoltán Mészár worked at the University of Fribourg for two years where he cooperated with Portuguese, Italian, Greek and Indian colleagues; thus, working in an international team was not unusual for him. However, the last time he participated in an academic competition was over 20 years ago, as a student in the Conference of Student Research Societies.

In response to the question of, he has said the team members have kept in touch with each other since the competition and are working to make a downloadable product from the application within half a year or a year. Currently, they are seeking to raise funds for the realization.

Press Centre - OCs