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MIT student blogger Paul B. '11

In Their Own Words (Part 3) by Paul B. '11

Thailand and Israel and Columbia, oh my!

The dramatic conclusion to my three-part series of entries about the fun things MIT students during their summer “off.”

Kendra Beckler (Courses 6-3 and 21M, of Random Hall): “We all know that MIT is the best there is for science and engineering, but many of the humanities professors are top of their fields and do research as well. This summer, I have one of those rare UROPs in the humanities. I am helping design a new freshman experience class (21M.013J/21A.113J) which I hope that some of you will take someday. In addition, I am coding the website and software support systems for the class from scratch. Coming soon, the website will be at http://supernatural.mit.edu/ (as soon as I finish setting up the server).

In my spare time, I work front desk at Random Hall and am a Summer RA there (basically, Residential Life funds cool events I want to run for the dorm, I’m on call in case of emergency, and I get free housing). I also helped run the Assassins’ Guild “Guildcamp” (Paul has to report to me on the progress he’s making on his game, heh heh), and I am active in MITSFS and the Laboratory for Chocolate Science.”

Alvin Chen ’11 (Course 20, of Simmons): “This summer, I’m participating in a new ThaiROP program created by Ellen & John Essigmann, housemasters of Simmons Hall. For ten weeks, I’ll be doing biological research at the Chulabhorn Research Institute in Bangkok, Thailand, in the Department of Pharmacology, led by Ajarn Jutamaad Satayavivad. (Ajarn is the Thai equivalent of “Professor” in the US.) My lab advisor is Dr. Piyajit Watcharasit, and her research deals primarily with Glycogen Synthase Kinase-3 (GSK-3) and its regulatory effects on apoptosis. This summer, I’m hoping to contribute to the lab’s knowledge of the mechanism by which GSK-3 promotes chemically induced apoptosis.

I spent the first two weeks in lab learning new techniques, such as western blotting and XTT cell viability assays. The people in my lab have been extremely helpful in guiding me through different protocols and getting me familiar with the lab. It’s been a rather interesting and refreshing experience working in a lab outside of the US. While I haven’t worked in a lab at MIT, I can assure you that it’s a different atmosphere and culture.

Logistically speaking, I’ve been working for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, usually from 9am-5pm. After work and on weekends, I, along with the rest of MIT ThaiROP students go out and explore the city and beyond. Some places we have visited on weekends include Ayutthaya (former capital of Thailand), Jatuchak Weekend Market (lots of very inexpensive stuff here), the Temple of Dawn, and the Grand Palace. We’ve also attended special events such as the King’s sister’s funeral and a ceremony in celebration of the Princess’s birthday. For the next two weekends, we have trips to the Khao Yai National Park and Pattaya Beach planned.

So that’s my summer in a nutshell. Slow internet aside, Thailand rocks! It’s really been a wonderful experience so far, and I would definitely do it again if given the opportunity.”

Cody Daniel ’11 (Courses 22 and 8B, of Senior Haus): “Course 22 – Nuclear Science and Engineering – is split into this dichotomy in which you have the power to either save the world or destroy it. While I haven’t made up my mind yet on this choice, I’m spending my summer trying to help save the world…to some extent.

This summer summer, I’m working with Prof. Richard Lanza and several other MIT researchers/professors as well as the defense contractor Raytheon on the Nanotron project. The Nanotron is like a cyclotron, only really small. Nano-sized, in fact, at least, in terms of cyclotron. The final machine is about a meter in diameter and a little over a meter tall, but produces a 5 MeV beam. This possible through the use of superconducting magnets, which allow the field density to be high enough to create such a compact accelerator. This accelerator is to be used to detect fissile material, in hopes of deterring any nuclear weapons proliferation by easily locating fissile material used to make nuclear weapons.

My part in this is to design the target, which produces the final beam. It’s a very open-ended engineering challenge, where the main concerns are dissipating the heat of the beam and making sure the target material doesn’t disintegrate from the beam intensity. I’ve basically been given a model of
the accelerator and the software to model the target with, and was told to come up with a design. That the designers of this project trust me to such an extent is very intense, but that I’m actually able to do such an engineering project makes me realize just how much I’ve learned in one year here and what my capabilities will be when I graduate from here. In the end, a very fulfilling summer, both in terms of meaningful work and a fulfilling learning experience.”

Javier Duarte ’10 (Courses 8 and 18, of Phi Sig, formerly of Senior Haus): “This summer, I’m doing a UROP under the supervision of Prof. Janet Conrad, at Fermilab near Chicago (travel and housing provided by Fermilab). I am researching the characteristics of an extremely rare QCD (Quantum Chromodynamics – the study of how quarks and gluons interact via the strong force) interaction called “anomaly-produced photons” within a newly proposed neutrino experiment at Fermilab, NuSOnG (NeUtrinos Scattering On Glass). Essentially, the interaction has a very common signature so it may be a very significant background to current and future experiments. For this reason, studying the event rate and other properties of this interaction is critical to reducing uncertainty in new measurements. Once the research is complete, I will co-author on a paper describing the range of QCD measurements that are possible with NuSOnG.”

Jeremy James ’09 (Course 2, of Skullhouse): “I’m working at ARES Corporation with a few Skullhouse alums. ARES corporation is a engineering and technology consulting company that provides outside companies with a variety of services – ranging from consulting advice, to risk analysis, to actually designing products and software that they require. We do a lot of work for government companies such as NASA and the Department of Defense, but we also work for non-government companies such as Boeing. We have several offices around the country and I am interning for the one in Arlington, VA. As an intern, my tasks vary, but so far I’ve worked on building databases of old information, researching relevant material for future proposals, and assisting in building presentations or software that will be presented to clients.”

Stanislav Nikolov ’11 (Course 18, of Putz in East Campus): “I have a story that is a good example of the fact that MIT gives you a ridiculous amount of opportunities, all the time. In fact, sometimes it’s hard not to stumble on opportunities.

This summer I’m working in a lab at Columbia playing around with mathematical models of signal detection in the brain (the signal being some sort of external stimulus, like a flash of light, corrupted with internal noise as it gets processed in your brain). It’s pretty interesting and involves statistical decision theory, signal processing, and other cool mathy stuff. I’m hoping to take the project I’m currently working on in some new direction and ultimately get first authorship on a publication.

The cool part is that I got the position without really looking for it. I was actually looking up stuff for my philosophy class (minds and machines) – I wanted to do a presentation on how consciousness relates to theory of computation. So I googled ‘consciousness and computation.’ One of the first links was a lab at Columbia exactly by that name, that was involved in mathematical and computational cognitive science. It looked like really cool stuff, so I emailed the PI (Principal Investigator) of the lab, told him I’m a freshman at MIT interested in doing computational science and a couple of emails later, I had a summer research position. The ease with which it happened was really startling, when I thought about it later. I basically said – I’m a guy that can do stuff, let me work with you, and they said – sure! And it probably didn’t hurt that I go to MIT.

Now I really feel like I can email any prof, at MIT or elsewhere, and say I want to work on such and such interesting and challenging project. At the very least, they’ll point you in the right direction and advise you, and in the best case, you could get a UROP, publish papers, make your own discoveries, etc. I actually went and talked to the computational cognitive science people at MIT and I could have a UROP there in the fall if I wanted to.

The problem at MIT is not whether opportunities are available, it’s which one of these crazy awesome things do I want to do?”

Sally Peach ’09 (Course 7, of WILG): “ZOMG I LOVE BRAGGING!!!! Not really, but I like my summer, so it’s worth sharing. I hope you’ll edit this? Please edit this… [Paul’s Note: What follows is completely unedited. Oops? :D]

  • Now- June 24th: Gastonia, NC: That’s right, for the first time since August 20th, 2005, I’m spending an extended amount of time in my hometown. A combination of chillaxing, reading, prepping for MEET (more on that in a second), and selling Mom’s stuff on eBay. Not to mention: going to the beach, swimming in Lake Wylie, visiting Atlanta, Charleston, and Raleigh, and hiking Crowder’s Mountain way too much.
  • June 24th – July 4th: Cambridge/Boston: Back in Cambridge, doing absolutely nothing.
  • July 5th: Zurich. A 12 hour layover means I’m totally opening a Swiss bank account. (Not really).
  • July 6th – August 21st: MEET, aka Middle Eastern Education through Technology. MEET brings Israelis and Palestinian high school students together to work toward a common goal. MEET is a three-year program, but the students begin by learning Java as part of an intense five-week summer program on the campus of Hebrew University that also includes business training and bonding experiences. Forty rising sophomores – half Israeli and half Palestinian – unite to suffer through lectures, recitations, and labs, ultimately learning about programming and about the “other side.” I am one of the instructors for this “Year One” experience. Despite being a Biology major and a girl (I’m very much in the minority, only two other girls are on the trip!), I was interviewed and selected to participate… even though I didn’t know Java! I learned my first programming language in the Fall by taking 6.00 (aka Python, the best programming language ever). I’ve worked hard this semester and have taught myself Java, and through weekly meetings with other Year One instructors, have helped to prepare a curriculum for the summer. I have no idea what to expect, but have been told by many past instructors that it was the best summer of their lives! (Did I mention that the trip is entirely free, plus we get a stipend?) Middle East, here I come! You can check out a blog of my adventures too – I can’t wait to start telling you all about the land of far far away.
  • August 21st – August 27th: MEET ends on the 21st, but I’m hanging around to do some good old fashioned tourism. I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt, and since it’s RIGHT FREAKING THERE, hopefully this will happen.
  • August 27th: Back to MIT. Yay?

Colin McSwiggen ’11 (Course 18, of First East in East Campus): “This summer is going to rawk. I’m going to be doing some volunteer work with the International Society for Ecology and Culture, in Ladakh, India (up in the Himalayas). I’ll be there for a month, working to fight the damage that increased Westernization has done to the region’s environment and culture, while staying with a native family and working on their yak farm. However, since I’ll be going all the way to India anyway, I thought I might as well make it a grand adventure, so I’m going to go through Rome and London on the way there, and through Beijing (where I’ll catch a bit of the Olympics), Shanghai, Nagoya and Tokyo on the way back, staying with friends or friends of friends or just bumming around the whole way. If all goes well (i.e. I don’t get kidnapped by Kashmiri bandits), by the end of August I’ll have circled the world in 78 days. Then I’ll have about 36 hours to pack up and fly back to MIT!”

Cathy Melnikow ’10 (Course 15, of Burton 1): “I’m doing a 4-week ROTC training camp at Fort Knox Kentucky this summer…it should be fun. It is done through the MIT ROTC program, and will basically catch you up on the first 2 years of ROTC so that you are able (if you choose to do ROTC) to join in the fall with your classmates. It’s basically boot camp and leadership training, plus I get to shoot a real gun and go bouldering. As for whether I do ROTC, this camp will definitely help me make a decision. Then I’m gonna come back to MIT to work in a restaurant somewhere around Boston and train for volleyball.”

Catherine Redfield ’11 (Course 16, of Burton-Conner): “I’m producing a show, Into the Woods, with the Musical Theater Guild. It goes up the last weekend of August, and first two of September. So…people should come see it. (Yes, I am shamelessly using you as an advertising service; if you mind, just ignore me. [Paul’s Note: I don’t mind. :D]) I’m also UROPing (I do need to pay for housing), but that’s less interesting.”

Michael Stunes ’11 (Course 6, of Simmons): “I’m doing a UROP at CSAIL (specifically with the Decentralized Information Group) entitled “Addressing Privacy Leakage from Search Engine Logs.”

Jason Whittaker ’09 (Course 10, of Skullhouse): “ExxonMobil‘s Automation and Optimization Division down in Fairfax, Virginia. In a refinery, you have a whole host of instruments that measure process variables with time. Their job is to keep those variables close to what you set them to be by opening an associated valve, much like a thermostat in your house. The only difference in the refinery case is that there are hundreds of variables, and the actions of one affect many others downstream. So you need to control the whole system together, at a higher level then that of a home thermostat. Computers need to real-time optimize the system and ensure stability to get the most out of every barrel of oil. Everybody benefits from efficient refining: more energy, less impact on environment, more savings to the consumer. I work for the department that does that higher level control and optimization process, called “Advanced Controls.” If I told you more than that, I’d have to kill you.”

12 responses to “In Their Own Words (Part 3)”

  1. ^
    hey i like that smiley face, it looks bad on other fonts.

  2. sally says:

    that sounds awesome! i’m at columbia too smile

  3. Anonymous says:

    Whoa.
    I totally know Alvin Chen ’11.
    Or my friend does.
    That’s so cool.
    :]

  4. Ahana says:

    @Colin

    Don’t worry about Kashmiri bandits!!

  5. Mary says:

    I’m so jealous of the guy who’s studying photons in Chicago. It sounds amazing.

  6. Edgar says:

    So practically the only thing an MIT student has to do to get an awesome summer [insert engineering/science related awesomeness here] is to go ahead an say, “Hi, I’m an MIT student…” and the employer goes, “welcome, sir, there is no need to say more. We are glad you are here.”
    I am so jelous of you all. In the other hand, another awesome engineering school student but not named MIT has to file an application.

  7. Snively says:

    @Edgar
    If only if only. We have to work to get internships still, I think the reason everything sounds so over the top and awesome is because we tend to apply to more ridiculous jobs than we would, say, in high school. For my job I had to submit a resume, portfolio, and interview before being hired a month later. It’s never a sure thing.

  8. Cody Daniel says:

    @Saket
    That is not true. Internationals are allowed and certainly do study Nuclear Science here, many of who are now top of their field in their respective countries. We have NSE Alums who are advisers in government, head up military programs, and have helped kick start nuclear energy programs. Our department here is really top-notch, one of the first Nuclear programs to have existed, and many of our students have gone on to define the field as what it is today.

    @Edgar
    That is hardly the case. There are lots of great projects on campus (we are a leading research institute), and getting on with these, as I have, is fairly easy. We are, after all, students here, so it’s not unfair that we be hired onto the projects here. However, applying anywhere else is just as difficult as it would be for any other student. What makes the difference is how hard you work, as always, and there is certainly a disproportionate number of hard workers here. But just saying you’re from MIT, without showing that you do some substantial amount of work and are a competent person to boot, will get you nowhere. So while you may say “It’s just because you’re from MIT”, that is simply not true, and really it’s because we have worked hard, and are in a place that encourages us to do so. Does that mean that a student elsewhere who works equally hard will not get into such a position? Certainly not, and I feel that many hard-working students from many places are just as respected in their fields as hard-working MIT students.

    Best Regards,

  9. Hey are internationals allowed for nuclear sciences?
    I somewhere read that the USA does not allow any foreign student to study nuclear technology….is this true?

  10. Hmmmm……are internationals also allowed in postgraduate nuclear engineering?

    And what are my options if I study nuclear engineering ?Will I get a job in the USA?

  11. Cody Daniel says:

    @Saket
    Sorry I took so long to respond. Yes, internationals are allowed to study any program at MIT at any level. That being said, some projects require security clearances of various levels, each of which require more thorough background checks. Note that this is only on projects that deal with information that is classified, top secret, etc. So you have no worries about studying whatever you want, and as long as you haven’t been involved in reasonably risky activity, even getting a clearance for those select few projects shouldn’t be too difficult.

    That being said, there are many, many, many opportunities for nuclear engineers today. Fission is taking off as a clean alternative for power today, and work on various advanced fuel cycles is big. Fusion is also large, with many governments investing in fusion as the long-run energy goal. ITER will fire in a couple of years, demonstrating fusion as viable (hopefully), and from there fusion will probably be refined and expanded as a major energy source for modern nations. The nuclear science area is also booming, with medical demands for innovative imaging techniques and many new and innovative nuclear engineering projects being researched and developed, the field is really defining itself more and more every day. Take for example superconductivity, which is something fusion and nuclear science have developed and which is just now being implemented in other areas. A lot of new technologies are coming out in this area, and a feel that nuclear science is only going to get bigger and better.

    Furthermore, as a nuclear engineer at MIT, you will be trained in a wide array of disciplines. This really develops a well-rounded engineer, in my opinion, and what I find amazing about many of the nuclear engineering professors and researchers I know is that not only do they do the science behind various projects, but they will also build or help build the projects, and run them to boot. I like this aspect the most, the well-rounded, jack-of-all-trades engineer. A nuclear engineer from MIT knows thermodynamics, radiation, nuclear physics, quantum, electronics, stresses, complex analysis, and many study a whole other discipline on top of nuclear engineering, as the fields share many courses, such as mechanical engineering of physics.

    But to really answer your question, your options are research and development, either military, academic, or national laboratory, private engineering firms, and new technologies, such as ITER (or the Nanotron, as I’m working on). There’s pure industry, such as running fission reactors (and someday fusion) and if you’ve the gumption, starting your own firm to employ various new technologies. There’s academia in other fields, such as physics or any other close field. Nuclear engineers are also readily hired on by wall street as consultants and analysts, which some consider selling out, but many really do enjoy the optimization and market reading of the job. And again, I’d like to say that there are many technologies looking to be developed and put into use, but have yet to have someone do such. Industrial plasma work, superconducting uses, micro fission reactors, high-tech imagers, and so on. I feel the field of nuclear engineering really puts you into a position to be ready to tackle many different fields with many different challenges, and really gives you the tools to do such well. The options, as you may see at MIT, really are endless.

    If you’ve any more questions, please, contact me by e-mail. You can look me up in the MIT directory.

    Best Regards,

  12. Thanx….and u didnt make me wait at all, so no problems….