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MIT student blogger Derrick B. '08

72 Hours by Derrick B. '08

Three days can be a long time.

Man, it’s been a while since I last blogged. I’ve been a bit hosed, to say the least. I’ve also been out of town quite a bit thanks to the Navy. The good news is that I now know what I’m doing after I graduate. But that’s another story for another blog entry.

What am I going to tell you about today? ICE. And I don’t mean solid water. From the subject listing and schedule:

10.490: Integrated Chemical Engineering
Presents and solves chemical engineering problems in an industrial context, with applications varying by semester. Emphasis on the integration of fundamental concepts with approaches of process design. Emphasis on problems that demand synthesis, economic analysis, and process design.
P. I. Barton, G. J. McRae, B. S. Johnston

Every major at MIT has a course that’s famously hard. For aero/astro majors, it’s “Unified Engineering,” which they simply call Unified. For computer scientists, it’s “Laboratory in Software Engineering,” also know as “Java Death Lab.” For physicists, it’s “Experimental Physics I and II,” shortened to “J-lab” (an abbreviation of Junior Lab, as it’s most often taken in the junior year.) And as you could’ve guessed, for course 10 majors like myself, it’s Integrated Chemical Engineering, which we shorten to ICE (because we’re so cool.)

ICE is a capstone senior design course. The idea is simple, and I think it’s a good one. ICE is a synthesis of all the chemical engineering topics you’ve learned: mass and energy balances, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat and mass transfer, reaction engineering, and if you get lucky maybe even some cell biology and biological engineering. To “prove your worth” to the department and earn a degree, you’re asked to use your expertise to tackle a realistic, complex problem.

It sounds cool, and it actually kind of is. Our project this year was the production of Lucretex, a valuable silicon-based organometallic polymer (the course instructors are so witty). Our company, Diversified Chemical Processes, was in competition with CalTech Industries to produce 310,000 lbs of Lucretex for the cheapest price. CalTech could do it for $9/lb. For the project to be successful, we had to beat them.

ICE is fairly open-ended. There are a few psets early in the term, and then you have the rest of your time to work on the project. Unfortunately, because my entire team was really busy most of the time, we didn’t start working on the project until last Saturday. It was due on Wednesday.

What’d we do to finish on time below $9/lb? It took a lot of work. I pulled 3 all-nighters in a row. 72 hours straight. Three days can be a long time. Before you all freak out, what I did was very uncommon and is the result of having ROTC in addition to waiting until the last minute for my ICE project. But I’m telling you the story like it is, because that’s what you deserve.

We approached the problem like this: We’d come up with a processing scheme, say three reactions and three separations. We’d optimize each process, and then we’d optimize the entire string of processes as a whole. Then we’d do all the calculations to figure out cost, waste, production rate, etc.

We went through countless arrangement of reactors and distillation columns, but nothing worked. We always got between $12 and $16 per pound. It got around to Tuesday night and we still weren’t any closer. Morale was low.

At around 3:30 AM I took a 30 minute nap on the floor of the lounge. Far too soon, my partner Joe woke me up.

“Boone, wake up. We need your help.”
“Huh?” *wipes drool off face*
“We can’t figure this out.”

In my sleepy haze I grabbed the marker from him and went to the dry erase board. I started writing. What came out was another process scheme. More complicated, but it showed promise. There was tension in the room.

“Boone, do you think this will work?”
“I don’t know.”
“We only have time to calculate one more process. And if it’s not below $9/lb, we lose.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“What do you think?”
I thought for a second. “Let’s do it.”

We took a huge gamble. I had no idea if what I’d written down would work. I was half asleep when I wrote it. Faith is hard to come by around here, but I stockpile it for situations like these.

We worked on into the morning, taking naps in shifts.

Finally, we got to the end of the process. Julianna plugged all the operation parameters into our master spreadsheet and read out the final cost: $8.07 per pound.

We were all ecstatic. Joe and I immediately got up and started dancing. Julianna doesn’t dance much, but we could tell she was happy too.

We wrote up the project quickly, and turned it in at 2:56 PM, four minutes before it was due. And then we took a team photo:
Joe ’08, Me, Julianna ’08

MIT gets tougher and tougher every year, but I won this battle. You’ll win your battles too, no matter how poor the odds seem. I slept like a rock for 2 nights straight, and woke up today better than ever.

So until next time, everyone
Take it easy.

20 responses to “72 Hours”

  1. Shamarah says:

    1. you live in simmons? i lived there this summer during MITES!
    2. congratulations :D i really felt glad for you when i read “$8.07/pound.” nice work!

  2. Sameed says:

    first post…the trend continues

  3. E Rosser says:

    Wow, talk about amazing. And almost simultaneously exhilarating in a self-masochist, macabre sort of way. I’m relieved to learn that the ROTC program doesn’t completely eradicate your time, that you still have the energy to pull 72-hour tool-a-thons. I’m looking at AFROTC, though, so it might differ from Navy a bit…
    But, to use Ty’s words, Kudos, indeed: great big sleepy loads of Kudos.

  4. Poshak says:

    I usually do one straight night – like twice a week.
    But man, 72 hrs straight is pretty impressive

  5. milena '11 says:

    holy crap, 3 days straight?! Ooh, I’m sure going to love that class… not.

  6. Ty says:

    …3 days…wow (in-awed look for 10 min)…I think I would have just keeled over…unless it was Physics perhaps…anything else…eech…

    KUDOS to you!!
    That is hella impressive

  7. Katelyn says:

    Good job! Way to go for beating the Techers!

    As for me, I’ve never had to pull an all-nighter; 3 am was the latest. I would probably die if I had to stay up for 72 hours straight.

    Anyway, just curious, what’s the “famously hard” course for math majors?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Wow, congratulations! That’s great that you got it to work! 72 hours sounds really long smile

  9. Isshak says:

    3 all nighters ? Call me masochist, but it sounds tempting…
    Can you give more informations on the reactions ? Pleeease !

  10. Edgar says:

    Wow, three all-nighters in a row? This is the most radical example of academic masochism.
    Just curious, what’s the “famously hard” class for Course VI?

  11. Meg says:

    Hey– that’s pretty amazing. Congrats. smile You look familiar. Are you dating a girl that was a tutor for WTP this past summer?

  12. Noelle says:

    Wow, that is indeed impressive. I love how MIT students always seem to make things come together somehow. And at 72 hours…WOAH!

  13. Ginger says:

    Wow…that’s amazing! Congrats on getting the price down to $8.07.

    Do you think you could give a list of the famously hard classes for all majors? I’m curious.

  14. Hunter '11 says:

    Hey, I’m thinking of being a 10B (+ 7A?) major! W00tness. How is 10B/doubling working out for you?

    ICE seems amazing, though kind of intimidating… but most courses here intimidate me ^.^

  15. derrick says:

    So about those famously hard courses. Some majors are smaller than others, and I can’t say I know all of them, just because I don’t have friends that are every major. But here’s the list I know right now:

    2: Lots of people have a tough time in 2.005 and 2.006. They involve heat and mass transfer.

    4: The class is called “Studio” but I don’t know much about it other than that.

    6: Any of the course 6 labs tend to be rough (Java, Digital, Analog).

    7: Project lab is the one I hear most about. It’s 30 units or something ridiculous like that. 4 hours everyday, if I remember correctly. But you don’t really take any other classes in that semester.

    8: J-Lab. Lots of work, forces people to drop other classes.

    10: ICE. ‘Nuff said.

    16: Unified Engineering. Pretty much tries to teach you the basics of every other engineering discipline in two semesters.

    Yeah, that’s all I’ve got concerning famously hard courses.

    @Isshak: If you’re really interested, I’ll post the assignment in my public folder in my athena locker and send you the link

    @Meg: Yes, I may have met you. My girlfriend’s name is Kristen and she worked at WTP last summer, for electrical engineering.

    @Hunter: Doubling in 10B with 7A is pretty common. All it takes is 3 more bio classes above the requirements for 10B. Just make sure you actually like bio before you consider it. For me, doubling has been stressful, just because the subject matter of my two majors tends to be disconnected.

  16. Isshak says:

    Oh yes I am interested ! You mean that MIT provides you with a public free server to post anything you want online ? Cool !

  17. Anonymous says:

    sadly, i didn’t even think of the solid water when i first read ICE

    but that’s pretty sweet!

  18. derrick says:

    @Isshak and Anon: I uploaded the files to my public folder. You can access them at:

    There are two memos that provide a fairly comprehensive overview of the ICE project.

  19. Isshak says:

    Thanks Derrick ! Oh my gosh, I’m reading right now Memo 1, it sounds so stressing…I like that ! Looks like a huge challenge. And you pulled it off in 3 days ? Wow.
    I’m trying to understand the reactions for now ^^’…

  20. Anonymous says:

    er, so, where’s the link you told Isshak you would send him ? or you meant on his email adress ?