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[Live Writing] MARC 2024 by Andi Q. '25

A big meeting about small things


January 23, 5:00 pm

Today is the first day of MARC 2024 (the Meeting about Amazingly-small Rocks and Computers), and I get to be there this year! MARC is two days of very bright people from MIT (Makers of Interesting Things) talking about all the cool ideas they have worked on for the past year. These ideas cover all sorts of different areas – faster computers, better ways to power those computers, and even new ways to save lives.

And then there’s me! I don’t have any of those kinds of ideas, but the good people running the meeting let me come along anyway. So now I get to hang out with these people who are much brighter than me and learn about the cool new ideas that are changing the world.

Of course, it’s not just all work and no play, so for the past six hours, we got to ride down the white stuff that fell from the sky. It was my second time ever doing this kind of stuff, but I quickly got the hang of it again and was even able to go quite fast without falling.

But now it’s almost time to start the actual meeting. And I will be back soon.

January 23, 10:00 pm

I ran into some of my teachers from MIT and a few friends, which was a nice surprise. Here’s what some of them have been working on:
  • Computers that still work when you light them on fire.
  • Rocks that help computers remember things for longer.
  • Very, very fast computers that only work when they’re very, very cold.

(I am almost definitely writing wrong about these ideas, but such is life when I can only use the top ten hundred words.)

The meeting started with the head person of MTL (MIT’s Tiny-thing Learning-place) telling us about all the new things that MTL had planned for the next few years. It was a fun talk, and it’s exciting how I’ll probably be a part of these new things this year.

In the middle of dinner, there was a short game where each table tried to build the tallest house using small sticks and soft sweets. They have this game every year at MARC, but I think the best table always builds the house in a new way. My table’s house was not the tallest, but it was sure fun to build.

Marshmallow house

At the end of the night, an important person from a big business that turns rocks into computers came and talked about the new things they were trying to make and why those things would change the world. I was surprised by this talk because these kinds of businesses are usually very tight-lipped about their work. (Although it makes sense here because MARC is probably a great place for them to find new people to work for them.)

The real fun will begin tomorrow, as will the real pain of writing about it. (I am now realizing how hard it is to write live while only using the top ten hundred words.)
Yet I still push on; wish me good will, and check back tomorrow for more.

January 24, 9:00 am

What exactly is MTL? They’re a group of people who study how to use small things to do big things. And I mean very small things – about as small to us as we are to the big brown ball turning around the sun.

When things get that small, weird stuff starts to happen. Like how if you throw a ball against a wall, it will always jump back to you; but if you throw a very, very small ball against a very, very small wall, then that ball sometimes goes right through the wall. (Actually, that’s one of the ideas behind how computers can remember things for a long time.)

MTL is 40 years old now, and they have been figuring out this kind of weird stuff for all that time. They’re one of the big reasons why it’s so great to learn about computers at MIT – because a lot of the stuff inside today’s computers was first made right here.

January 24, 9:45 am

The second day of the meeting started off with a short talk about a new space in MTL where students can work with the best new [things people use to build computers]. (I’ve seen the space before, and it is very nice and new inside – much nicer than the rest of MTL, actually.)

A lot of new stuff is being talked about this morning – there’s also a new business from MIT that makes it easier to write up plans for building computers (kind of… it’s hard to explain).

Right now, some bigger businesses are talking to us about why we should work for them. They all seem quite exciting, but it’s clear which one is the favorite at MTL:

“We’ll start with Draper! … and then go to the other three [businesses].”

The four businesses are:

  • Draper (they do space stuff I think).
  • Hitachi (I don’t know what they do).
  • UpNano (they build a thing that lets you make very small 3D figures using light. We even have that thing at MIT!).
  • NEC (I also don’t know what they do).

Some fun things that these businesses said:

“Have you ever done [small water work] with PDMS and hated it because nothing works?”

(Yes, I have.)

“The good thing about us is that we have no [letting people go] planned. I think the plan is working well because he is still [someone who works with me]”

(I guess this is a good way to get people to work for you.)

How to fabricate microelectronic devices

January 24, 10:30 am

Now, some people from four other businesses are talking to us about the uses of computers tomorrow (and the rocks used to make them). Many more different areas use computers these days, which is why they are suddenly so important now.

(They are talking a lot about working together being important, but I don’t know how possible that is because some of these businesses used to not like each other. Because money and stuff.)

Also, I am leaving out a lot of what is being talked about because it is not possible (or at least very, very hard) to talk about those things using the words that I have. But I hope my writing still kind of makes sense.

January 24, 10:15 am

“Everyone just talks about AI these days.”

So true.

January 24, 11:00 am

Now we’re getting to the fun parts! Right now, students who are presenting their ideas are lining up to tell us about their ideas… except they only get 60 seconds to do so. Here’s what I think each one is about:

Part 1 (making the little doors inside computers)

  1. A smaller, easier way to sense [the not-red stuff in blood but not blood].
  2. Small computers that use little balls learn like brains (but better).
  3. Hot rocks and warm rocks.
  4. Non-binary computers.
  5. Using sticking-together rocks that don’t actually stick together to remember things.
  6. Hot computers that work in cars and up-goers
  7. Little computer doors that open and shut very quickly because they’re made of a new type of rock.
  8. AI and yet another computer door that opens and shuts quickly.
  9. Helping build cold and fast computers using warm and fast computers.
  10. Cool rocks for hot computers.

Part 2 (using the doors in Part 1 for not-computer things)

  1. Adding numbers faster with the power of Taylor Swift.
  2. Cleaning up the air waves.
  3. Making AI faster somehow.
  4. Like if (2) from Part 1 and (3) from Part 2 had a child.
  5. Making it less bad when things go very, very wrong.
  6. Sensing and using light from a bright rock for adding numbers.

Part 3 (living things and saving people in hospitals)

  1. Putting useful stuff into your body through your skin.
  2. A computer that makes you want to eat less.
  3. Using your phone to sense when your brain isn’t working well anymore.
  4. A better way to help people hear things.
  5. Powering computers using the small green things on trees.
  6. A computer that smells things as well as dogs can.
  7. Sensing if there is something wrong inside you without the doctor touching you.
  8. (I have no idea what this one is about, sorry.)

Part 4 (power!!!)

  1. Lower-power AI for seeing things.
  2. A thing for changing one type of power into another.
  3. Small moving computers that live for longer.

(If anyone who presented is here, I am so sorry you had to read this.)

January 24, 2:30 pm

Time for another talk by some businesses! This time, we have Analog DevicesLam Research, and Soitech telling us about how they went from being students to being big, important people at big businesses.

In all, it’s a pretty great talk. They told us about why they decided to go work in businesses instead of staying in college, and how they started at those businesses. It was quite surprising to hear that they shared many of our struggles too, like not being able to find a job and things they tried not working out.

January 24, 3:30 pm

More 60-second presentations now. Oh boy…

Part 5 (how to train your rock)

  1. Things go wrong… let’s figure out how!
  2. Water ways that just work.
  3. Something about AI I think
  4. Growing the dark stuff you write with.
  5. Trying to make the most fast computer doors.
  6. What happens to a computer’s brain if you make it remember new numbers too often?

Part 6 (10^-9)

  1. Avoiding balls of air when you put two things together.
  2. Breaking bad order (to do more things).
  3. I don’t know oops.
  4. Using small things with big changes to sense even smaller things.
  5. “We need your money give it to us” (my favorite one so far).
  6. I wish I knew what this one is about but my brain is too small.

Part 7 (let there be light)

  1. A TV that you can place in front of your eyes and still be okay.
  2. Using light to cool things down a lot.
  3. Self-driving cars that don’t suck… and also look good.
  4. More AI, but with light this time.
  5. The same thing as (3) I think?
  6. (1) + (2) + (3) + (4) + (5) (yes, all of them together)

Part 8 (weird stuff that happens when things get small)

  1. Sensing single pieces of light.

January 24, 4:00 pm

Tyra's poster

Hi Tyra

Hedgehog poster

The “give me your money” guy was right – I definitely should give him my money for this wonder

January 24, 10:00 pm

The meeting is over now, and we got back to MIT two hours ago.  Even though writing about it was not fun at all, the rest of the two days were great, and I hope to go back again next year.

(Maybe with my own world-changing ideas next time.)