Mapping Gangs, and an App for Artists

Student-led teams Nucleik and MUSEY win Harvard challenges.

Harvard President Drew Faust greets the winners of the President's Challenge for social entrepreneurship in her office, in advance of the public announcement of their win. Florian Mayr '13 (from left), Matthew Polega '13, Drew Faust, and Scott Crouch '13 are pictured in Massachusetts Hall.

During an engineering design seminar at Massachusetts State Police Headquarters last year, three Harvard students were surprised by how rarely law enforcement utilizes technology in gang surveillance. Determined to find a solution, the students—computer science concentrators Scott Crouch ’13, Florian Mayr ’13, and Matthew Polega ’13—built a software tool called Nucleik that will help police tackle gang violence by providing instant access to accurate and organized data, such as background information on suspects and graphical displays of criminal networks. The software has such potential to make a difference in police work that it came in first in the President’s Challenge for Social Entrepreneurship, a contest that encourages students from across the University to find important, high-impact solutions to the world’s most pressing social problems.

The team—which beat 126 others to win $70,000, the grand prize—has developed what it calls an information collection environment (ICE) that runs on smartphones or tablets and can be used by law enforcement officials to collect information that syncs automatically with information on the phones or tablets used by other team members. The software, which has been used by the Springfield (Massachusetts) police department’s gang unit since last summer, can do things such as match disparate information to identify only those gang members of a certain age who frequent a particular address. The system can also display a criminal network graphically, allowing police to identify connections among gang members and drug dealers.

“Normally you’d need probably five pieces of software to do all of this and it would take hours. Now with one [program], it takes minutes,” Crouch told The Boston Globe in March. “One of the major problems with law enforcement is that most departments use distinct and incompatible systems, impeding the ability to share criminal information. We hope to fix that.”

Three other student-led teams were named runners-up in the President’s Challenge and awarded $10,000 each:

  • Team Flume, for building a comprehensive and up-to-date map of the human genome through a crowdsourced webtool;
  • Team PlenOptika, which aims to distribute a device that can quickly test a person’s vision and then provide the best off-the-shelf prescription; and
  • Team TerraTek, which is developing a two-sided platform that allows individuals to more easily secure property rights in order to obtain credit and other social benefits, while simultaneously helping governments plan more effectively and expand their property rights and revenue databases.


Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge

Frustrated by the lack of funding for arts and design projects in Boston, a student-led team named MUSEY designed a mobile app that allows people to support art outside museum walls. Using geotechnology that enables users to locate art in their immediate vicinity, to learn more about it, and to support it financially, MUSEY’s app lets cultural organizations collect contact information and financial donations from their audiences easily.

Comprised of Graduate School of Design students Judy Fulton, Hokan Wong, and Wes Thomas, as well as undergraduate Lucy Cheng ’16 and Loeb Fellow Helen Marriage, MUSEY recently won $30,000, the grand prize in the inaugural Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge, which attracted 70 entries from teams across 13 Harvard schools. Announced in the fall, the challenge celebrates artistic and entrepreneurial visions, and grows out of an interdisciplinary partnership among Harvard Business School, the division of arts and humanities in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), and the Silk Road Project (under the leadership of Yo-Yo Ma ’76, D.Mus. ’91).

“This is a huge vote of confidence and encouragement,” Fulton said of the award in a press release. “Now we know we can probably work on it for a full year. It’s amazing.”

Three other student-led teams were awarded $15,000 each as runners-up in the Challenge:

  • Midas Touch, which uses 3-D printing to render paintings in a form accessible to the visually impaired;
  • Culturally, an online social discovery and engagement ecosystem for the arts; and
  • Music+1, a mobile app that provides adaptive orchestral accompaniment in real time to musicians.

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