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Becoming a Mad Scientist by Emiko P. '25

a required class for all meches!

Have you ever wanted to see how accurate you can make a GPS? Have you ever wanted to see just how hot your PC can get before it starts messing with its performance? What about designing your own heat sink? Or maybe figuring out the optimal scoop-ability of your favorite ice cream01 or sherbert, if you’re me ? What about the power of nerf gun bullets? Or maybe the power of a single footstep? Want to know the correlation between music and your lifting workouts?

These questions that bounce around our brain are fun to think about – but imagine if you had an entire semester to pursue that question by designing an experiment, collecting and analyzing data, and uncovering a conclusion. Sounds nerdy, but… also weirdly exciting? 

This is 2.671, Measurements and Instrumentation, a communication-intensive class I took this past spring where we have a semester to pursue any research question we can imagine. This is a particularly special class because it is required for everyone majoring in Mechanical Engineering – which means that, after going our separate ways and taking different MechE classes the past two years, my classmates and I all converged again for this one class. Walking into lecture the first day was an Avengers Endgame moment, seeing the large group of familiar faces all assembled and ready to take on one of the most notoriously demanding classes. 

We got right into it, and by the first week, we were brainstorming the research projects we would be working on for the rest of the semester. It didn’t take me very long to figure out what my project would be. When I got concussed my sophomore season and was returning to play soccer, I asked the doctor if I should wear a concussion prevention headband. It’s basically a foam headband that a lot of soccer players wear after getting concussed to prevent a reinjury. He told me, “Up to you, I’m not entirely sure if they work.” And thus, my 2.671 project was born! 

I wanted to see if these headbands would actually absorb the impact of soccer balls as advertised and if they were to be trusted with a soccer player’s brain safety. I ended up simulating a concussion02 On a foam head, <i>not </i>myself. A surprising amount of people have asked me this.  and testing the headbands to see if the impact on your head changed at all compared to wearing no headband. Turns out: it did! The headbands absorbed 70-80% more of the impact than without the headband! WOW! I created a poster based off of my conclusions, then wrote a final research paper on the topic. It was kinda fun to know my topic inside and out and to produce scientific documents explaining my work. 

This class always culminates in a presentation that looks like a big research convention, where all of us present our poster to the greater MIT community at the end of the semester. The event is held in Pappalardo Lab, where the sun shines brightly through the big open windows and sunlight hits our towering, gleaming posters set up in neat rows. Colorful graphs and arrows jump out at me, and each title snags my attention.

It’s so fun to go up to each student’s project and pepper them with questions – I take about 18 laps around the room in an effort to talk to everyone. Everyone is excited to talk about their work, and I am blown away by how deeply they know about their projects. Also, everyone’s projects are so creative and unique – like, how do you even come up with a project about the effect of alcohol on Mario Kart driving ability? 

Here are some other super cool ones:

Looking at all these cool projects, I get a pretty surreal feeling, and time and space warps so that I see all of my classmates’ faces, a few years younger. I see us all as freshmen, new to MIT. We are uncertain of many things – of how we will fit into this new place, of who we are and who we may become. I see all of our aspirations, and I see the great hope that MIT will provide us with the answers.

Those younger faces morph back into the older versions of themselves. The ones who have, over the course of a semester, become mini-experts in everything from 3D printing to bowling mechanics. If only our freshman selves could see us now. If only they could see the research we’ve crafted, the passions we’ve discovered, the skills we’ve gained, and the people we’ve become. 

I know that freshman year Emi would be so astonished by all that I have accomplished. I know that she would love to read my research and that she would look at the graphs on my poster with awe. And in that moment, as the culmination of all my classmates and I’s hard work hits me all at once, the feeling of pride plants itself firmly in my stomach. 

Heading into senior year is an interesting time of reflection. It’s easy to become lost in the fact that we only have one more year. A year of lasts, of mourning, of clawing at time wishing for it to slow down. 


Or it could be one more year to grow as we have grown the last three. Because if this is how far we have come in three years, just imagine what we can do in one more.

  1. or sherbert, if you’re me back to text
  2. On a foam head, not myself. A surprising amount of people have asked me this. back to text