“I like to build things. What can I do to show my stuff?”
I get this question from time to time. Many students know that math students can do things like the American Mathematics Competitions, and science students can enter the Intel Science Talent Search, but if you really like building stuff, if you’re a budding engineer or inventor, what can you do?
It’s a little-known fact that we in admissions get as excited about cool projects as we do about the big awards.
It’s true. Students who send in supplemental materials describing their interesting, imaginative, from-scratch inventions and creations get our attention in the same way that many of those national honors do.
Why? Look at MIT’s motto, Mens et Manus — Mind and Hand. These hands-on projects tie in directly with MIT’s core principles. And look around MIT for lots of examples of cool projects, like:
- Disco Dance Floor
- MIDAS and the “party button”
- The laundry & bathroom servers
- The Simmons LED Display
- The carboat & couchamaran
So, let’s say you like making things. Maybe you’ve already tried the “intro” material — trebuchets, computers, etc. What’s next? Where to look for inspiration?
Let me introduce you to a few really wonderful resources. I think you’ll like these; I know I do.
- MAKE: It all starts with MAKE Magazine and MAKE blog. Both the zine and the blog highlight many of the coolest projects out there, and how you can make these projects yourself. You certainly should add MAKEblog to your RSS reader, and MAKE magazine makes a great birthday/holiday gift. Example project: Batometer
- Instructables: A project of the MIT-alumni company Squid Labs (who “make a lot of stuff, for business, and for pleasure”), Instructables is kind of an open-source DIY site, meaning you can contribute, too. Example project: LED Dot-Matrix Display
- HowStuffWorks: While (IMHO) not quite as cool as MAKE and Instructables, I have to mention howstuffworks.com, since it is another favorite. For example: How LCDs Work
These are wonderful inspirational sites that can provide lots of great ideas. I hope that if you’re interested in building things, you’ll check them out. And to the folks behind MAKE and Instructables: thank you!
If you’ve done some projects like these — tell us about them! Use the optional essay (Question 13: “show us and/or tell us about something you have created”) or attach supplemental materials (it’s best as 8.5″x11″ paper attachments with labeled photos) to tell us more. I love seeing photos, schematics, and descriptions of your creations.