Skip to content ↓
MIT student blogger Lulu L. '09

A Look at Unified Engineering and the Aero/Astro Department by Lulu L. '09

Back in business.

You can’t take any other classes in the Aero/Astro department until you’ve completed both semesters of Unified Engineering- a series designed to encompass all the fundamentals of engineering while exploring questions such as ‘Just how excited are you, really, about airplanes??’ and ‘Are you sure?’

(Read more about the trials of the course in the intro to my entry #2 about bottle rockets. The pains, and gains, of being a student at MIT.)

A couple weeks before the end of term, we abandoned an entire thermodynamics lecture to just talking about how cool airplanes are in which the student body revealed most obstinately, “Yes, indeed, we are psyched about airplanes.” I felt really glad to be a part of Course 16 on that day.

(Unified lecture hall during a 9am lecture)

You see, to be quite honest, Course 16 is not designed like many other majors necessarily with exploration in mind. As one of my hallmates wisely pointed out to me, while many students develop a tangible interest in math or chemistry through positive experiences with intro classes in high school or early college, far fewer students decide to ‘take a shot’ at Aerospace because they’d done well in their 10th grade Jet Propulsion class and found the material interesting. Instead, course 16 students are propelled by a sort of fanaticism much in the way that marathon runners are motivated by the finish line. It’s about making it through, and meanwhile having each other to lean on.

(the Undergraduate Aero/Astro Lounge)

Many people have asked me if Unified is hard. And I suppose I have to extend my analogy to respond that Unified is hard in the same way that running a marathon is hard. The material is designed with very few expectations in mind but that you follow along, that you come to class, that you do what is asked. The grades are not curved so you dont necessarily have to be smarter, faster, stronger than your classmates, however smart, fast, and strong they are. Anyone who puts in the effort required (which is quite a bit) has an equal shot at success. It’s not so much a matter of skill, most anyone can figure out how to put one foot in front of the other, but one of endurance, that you do it over and over again for 26 miles and it’s pretty damn gratifying when you make it. Looking at the number of companies vying for course 16 grads at career fairs, I’d say you’re pretty set if you can graduate with an Aero/Astro degree from MIT :)

(a typical signals and systems lecture)

(Professor Hall giving his pre-test schpiel, those are real tests on each of our desks)

(answers passed out immediately following a thermodynamics test)

Me? I’m not really that excited about airplanes. I think I’m more excited about the applied physics that is in engineering and the huge role fluid dynamics plays in Aeronautics. Plus, I’m sick of running, I’m not in such a hurry. I don’t even know where it is I’m going. So after some soul searching I’m proud to report that my full attentions will turn to a course 8 degree. Hey hey don’t get me wrong. I’m still your source for all things Course 16. My intentions are grad school in Aeronautics/Astronautics and hopefully a couple of internships in that direction.

(that’s a turbine)

(these are all pictures from the aero/astro lab)

(that’s a flight simulator)

(in case you forgot about the turbine)


(i dont know jesse took these pictures)

(i like this picture)

(someone’s project)

I took these on my cellphone when flying from Shanghai to Chongqing a couple weeks ago.

Okay, maybe I’m a little excited about airplanes.


44 responses to “A Look at Unified Engineering and the Aero/Astro Department”

  1. first poster says:

    yeah first post

    nice pics and thanx for the info

  2. Solomon says:

    First post. Isn’t that something.

  3. Solomon says:

    A very nice lab with excellent facilities. MIT is really the best. Thanks Lulu.

  4. Solomon says:

    A very nice lab with excellent facilities. MIT is really the best. Thanks Lulu.

  5. Rupa says:

    I am an Aero/Astro aspirant & the pictures you posted, really means a lot to me.

    Thanks for posting them smile

  6. Someone says:

    Thank you, Lulu, for posting this. I am thinking about going into something for Aero but I am still not sure.

  7. Amjad says:

    what is that project??
    it really made me curious. smile
    by the way i like aerodynamics a lot and especially when it comes to jets.
    but i will never consider it as a field of my studies. smile

  8. theresa says:

    that looks really cool, lulu! (the word nifty comes to mind) smile great pix by the way… smile

  9. Colleen says:

    I am so disappointed that you’re not focusing on aero/astro. I am so excited about airplanes that I can’t really imagine doing anything else with my life. Everytime I think about doing something else I always come back to avaition.

  10. Zaira '11 says:

    Lulu, thank you so much for this post. I loved each and everyone of this pictures. One of them is on my desktop now.

  11. Zaira '11 says:

    Update to last post:

    I love Course 16 more today. Just had to say that.

  12. Nina says:

    That’s not just a turbine, that’s a whole jet engine! Jet engines come equipped with compressors, turbines, fans, combustors, and lots and lots of little tiny parts. Just so your poor readers don’t think that a “turbine” is all that is. It is a CFM56-3C, and it is beautiful.

    (Didn’t Waitz do his “here is the CFM56-3C, and it is beautiful” lecture this term? If not, as a TA I am equipped to officially wonder why. I was ecstatic for DAYS after he wheeled that thing into class.)

  13. Paul says:

    DISCLAIMER: This is a really long, rambling, and totally unnecessary post. If you have no desire to read it, I would understand completely. That being said…

    I actually visited the Aero/Astro department over the summer while I was in Boston – not because I have any extreme fanaticism for airplanes, mind you (although I do think rockets are pretty awesome)…It was actually just because one of the professors there – Mary Cummings, if you know her? – was a guest speaker at a science symposium I went to. And, naturally, I was all “OMG you’re from MIT? I really want to go there! Can I come and visit your lab this summer?” – and the poor lady very kindly assented.

    So, yeah, I ended up visiting the rather well-named “HAL” (Humans and Automation Lab). And then I was walked around the rest of the Aero/Astro building – which I now recognize from your pictures! It’s all a little surreal, and gives me a kind of warm fuzzy feeling inside. smile

  14. Basant says:

    Wow! I’m so excited! Can’t wait to come over and rock with Aero/Astro…. All this aero stuff is a big part of my dreams and fantasies. And by the way, can’t we turn this marathon into a Formula 1 race… LOL..

  15. Aaron says:

    Just got back from the integration bee! It was great smile

  16. Unified Engineering was so horrible that I quit MIT. Luckily, I was smart enough to realize that it wasn’t me it was them, and went back to take another major and finished with a B average (in that major).

    I actually ended up working in the airline industry (which was my primary interest), so that’s a lesson for you. Don’t be afraid to cut your losses and change majors if it’s not working out – there are (and can be) many paths that all lead to where you want to go.

  17. lulu says:


    oh are jet engines the same as turbine (turbofan) engines? I’m never quite certain on the nomenclature distinction. Sometimes it’s just the rotating blades and other times it refers to the whole engine that contains a turbine. Shows what I know raspberry Thanks for the correction.

    Also, I missed some lectures this term but I didn’t see it, it would be a sore thing to miss though.


    no clue. raspberry


    lol, I’m glad you visited aero/astro, I think it’s one of the more gorgeous departments at the school smile Did you stop by the man-vehicle laboratory? I did a UROP there for one term w/ the artifical gravity team.

  18. Emir says:

    Wow, the labs are fantastic. awesome stuff. MIT. hahaha. what else can be said. Hmmm can you let me know any ground breaking researches taking place there? I’m curious of what you guys might be doing over there. I hope I can get into MIT next year.

  19. Laura says:

    So my friend Adelaide works in the Aero/Astro library and she showed me the Course 16 lounge/lab space and that totally almost convinced me to be Course 16. Fun fact: I actually prereged for Unified and changed my mind to Course 2 at the last minute…

  20. James says:

    It makes me sick that there are people in the world who have a passion for aeronautics engineering because of the applied physics involved. Actually, that’s not what makes me sick. What makes me sick is the fact that I don’t know any of these people.

  21. Paul says:


    I haven’t seen much of MIT, but I’m inclined to agree with you – it seemed like a nice place, and everyone who was there (a surprising number for the summer) was really nice to me.

    Unfortunately the only lab I went into was the Human and Automation Lab I mentioned before – I felt a little too self-conscious to do much wandering. smile I did end up walking through a bunch of garages/shops, though, which was neat.

    What was your UROP like? It sounds really interesting.

  22. Amjad says:

    not sure if they do these researches THERE. but they are researches indeed….
    NOTE: those researches are for Undergraduates.

  23. Tim says:

    Am sure your labs can only be rivaled by those of NASA! What a great school. I just can’t wait to experience these facilities for real.

  24. Tim says:

    May be it is no coincident that MIT is the optical isomer of TIM

  25. as says:

    Do they run MS flight simulator?
    I love flying from RJTT to RJAA with my PMDG Boeing 747-400 raspberry
    anyone plays msfs too?

  26. I myself have several FS softwares, and though there’s support for Yoke, and Pedal, I use mouse, and lower keys (i.e. the keys of the board nearer to me).

    i wonder what are the connections near the CDRom, is not it better to clear visual obstacle from a pilot’s face side?

  27. I myself have several FS softwares, and though there’s support for Yoke, and Pedal, I use mouse, and lower keys (i.e. the keys of the board nearer to me).

    i wonder what are the connections near the CDRom, is not it better to clear visual obstacle from a pilot’s face side?

  28. Meara says:

    I especially like the caption (stuff). That makes me happy in my soul.

  29. bon bon says:

    A-mazing. I put course 16 as my fisrt choice and after seeing these pics I am stoked. They are fantastic!!! What a lab, and that jet engine is way cool. p.s. I was saying “cool” and “wow” out loud to my computer while scrolling down! thanks for the post

  30. lulu says:

    smile aw you guys are so excited about airplanes. YOU WILL FIT RIGHT IN! smile

  31. Z says:

    Course 16 sounds faaaaaar out. You do a good job with persuasion.

    Speaking of which (not), how was China? I’m so jealous of all my cousins there, they’re getting 40-day vacations for Spring Festival!!

  32. ICE says:

    Chongqi is too dank, oops
    maybe I can use Chinese at here?
    新年快乐!Happy Chinese New year.

  33. MIT alum says:

    Ah, but what the pictures don’t show is how freakin’ hard course 16 is. I took Unified, and the 1st term of junior year (which is harder than Unified), and switched majors after all that. So, enjoy the pictures…but don’t let them be the deciding factor in how to choose a major. smile (And I love airplanes: I’m a pilot.)

  34. Zaira '11 says:

    Sorry, I just had to visit this blog again. It makes me happy! =D

    I was visited the Aero/Astro library during the summer(after being lost for 30 min. because nobody told me that it was underground). It is so interesting. I wish I had had more time to explore.

  35. lulu says:

    ice- what part of china do you live in? this is the first time I’ve been back to chongqing near and around chinese new years, it was quite festive.

    MIT alum- what major did you end up as?

  36. ICE says:

    My hometown is zhengzhou city. Have you heard this city? But recently,I stay at beijing or shanghai,sometimes.
    I consider,Chongqing people like capsicum.Do you like it? ^@^

  37. Stephanie C. says:

    Hehe. I’m afraid to ask, but do you know what that experiment with the bike was? It looked fun.

    Did you have fun while you were in China? I hope so. It’s a bummer you aren’t as psyched about Course 16 anymore, but hey, it’s your desicion. Keep up the wonderful photos, please!

    Are you Nivair? You sound like her, so I’m not sure. I figured I’d ask.

  38. henke says:

    Hi smile

    It’s just so awesome and fun to read your blog entries, lulu. I just found myself laughing at the fact that I recognize your photos; from my own collection smile. Haha. Always get a lot of photos every time I fly anywhere and comparing your last photo with the caption, “Okay, maybe I’m a little excited about airplanes.”, to my own, I just laughed out loud.

    It’s so cool you use a wind tunnel for every-day project (as read in your October post). Wind tunnels are cool btw… Do you have one of those portable tiny ones that fit in a room to get C_d of small objects? Or a big one that fills a whole room and has a very large experimental area? Or both? *waving my tail* smile

    I hope I get in ^^.

  39. lulu says:


    Oh yeah we’ve got a big wind tunnel, for the big flying things, and a mini wind tunnel, for the little flying things. I actually had a picture of the mini wind tunnel somewhere… well, I can’t find it, but yeah that’s where we tested the drag on our bottle rockets. I hope you get in as well! smile


    Yeah, I got TONS of pictures from china, not sure how MIT-relevant they are though smile

  40. bad amateurs says:

    alguem sabe me dizer se e possivel rotacionar uma imagem com angulo de 30?, 45?, … (em css, javascript, sei la, qualquer

  41. kavita says:

    ur blog makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside!

  42. Eric Wong says: