NU students, faculty lead data collection for Sunday’s Chicago Marathon

Alice Yin, Campus Editor

A team of Northwestern students and faculty released a mobile version of its multi-year data visualization project for Sunday’s Chicago Marathon.

Led by McCormick Prof. Karen Smilowitz, the research team has been employing “dashboards” that simulate race day traffic and real time updates of the 26.2-mile race. For the first time, this year these dashboards were available virtually. The desktop version was accessible to authorized users only, while the mobile version was open to anyone.
In addition, the research team employed timing chips attached to the shoes of participants to add real-time updates to their data.

Sunday’s operation was part of a larger endeavor by the NU research team, which began in 2013, and is the latest data to be added to the project’s eight years of race data on the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

“The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is a pioneer in the way they run the marathon, including using electronic data strategically to make an excellent race even better,” Smilowitz said in a news release. “Working together as a team, we have developed a dashboard that has all the important data in one place, enabling information-based decision making.”

The custom-designed visualization was set up in two dashboards in the command tents. The NU team displayed information such as lead runner locations, runner density, medical tent capacity, temperature and other conditions on the screens. On Sunday, the researchers worked with a collection of data from every race since 2008.

George Chiampas, the marathon’s medical director and professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, is working with Smilowitz on the project.

“Our data analytics collaboration continues to help the Bank of America Chicago Marathon best prepare for a mass gathering of the marathon’s magnitude — including medical preparedness, public safety and security,” Chiampas said in the release. “The visual computer simulation will help us foresee what is likely to occur before it does.”

Smilowitz was stationed in a command tent on Sunday with three of her McCormick students: senior Samuel Young, and juniors Rachel Lin and Ryan Rose. Bruno Peynetti, a McCormick first-year graduate student, also ran the operation, while McCormick Ph.D. candidate Mehmet Basdere, who worked on researching race course design for the project, ran the marathon as a participant.

The Sunday race was the Bank of America Chicago Marathon’s 38th annual marathon. About 45,000 runners dashed across Chicago’s streets for the event, which raises millions in charity money every year.

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