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MIT student blogger Melis A. '08

Looking ahead to IAP by Melis A. '08

One more week left to go! Feel the burn!

Three days of class: 20 sheets of notebook paper
Four days of non-stop studying: 8 cups of coffee
Three exams: 5 wrinkles and 3 gray hairs
Having 2+ weeks of winter break and a month of IAP: Priceless

Winter break is upon us and promises to be a grand ole time. I’m especially excited about Independent Activities Period (IAP), which lasts from January 9- February 5. Students have the option of either staying at home/traveling/doing whatever they want or coming back on campus and taking advantage of what is, in my opinion, one of the coolest times to be at MIT.

By browsing the IAP website, you can choose from hundreds of credit and non-credit activities. Another popular option is working on a UROP. If you don’t have a UROP yet, IAP is a really great time to start because you can work up to 40 hours per week with your supervisor, giving them a lot of time to train you and get you on the right track before classes start and things start to get hectic. Last year, I started my UROP in the Chen Lab in the Center for Cancer Research at the beginning of IAP and continued until the end of the year. It was pretty intense, but twice a week after work I went to a “No Book, Just Cook” cooking class taught by two MIT graduate students. I have always been passionate about food (I think it comes from my Turkish roots, where food is used to bring people together) and this class equipped me with confidence and a fabulous set of recipes. The point of the class was to teach the process of improvisation and how to combine different ingredients to make yummy new dishes. We watched the teachers cook for two hours, while they explained everything from their choice of ingredients to tricks of the trade, and at the end of each class we got to sample everything they made. Through the class, we learned to make red wine risotto, goulash, tomato soup, whole roast chicken, lamb stew, roast pork tenderloin, scallops with scallions, oven baked trout/salmon, overn roasted Pollack, pasta with Gorgonzola cheese and apples, swordfish, pears in wine, and tiramisu. Unfortunately, I don’t think the class is being offered this IAP.

As a Mechanical Engineering (Course 2) major, we are required to take a 6-credit class called Mechanical Engineering Tools (2.670) for two weeks of IAP. The class meets every day from 9 AM – 4 PM and teaches the fundamentals of machine tool and computer tool use. Using the different tools in the machine shop, we get to create our own Stirling Engine that is powered by an ethanol burner. Here’s an explanation from the website: “Air in the engine is cyclically heated (by an alcohol burner) and expands to push the power piston (shown in blue) to the right. As the power piston moves to the right, the yellow linkage forces the loose-fitting, red “piston” (on the left half of the machine) to displace air to the cooler side of the engine. The air on the cool side loses heat to the outside world and contracts, pulling the blue piston to the left. The air is again displaced, sending it back to the hotter region of the engine, and the cycle repeats.

The Stirling engine cycle can also be used “in reverse”, to convert rotating motion into a temperature differential (and thus provide refrigeration). Use your favorite search engine to find additional links on Stirling engines!”

2.670 is a prerequisite for the robotics competition called Design and Manufacturing I (2.007). The challenge of the class changes every year, but ‘m so excited! The competition occurs at the end of the semester and everyone is invited, I’ll be sure to disclose the details when they’re available!

So, IAP is four weeks long and 2.670 is a two-week class. You might be asking yourself, Melis, what are you planning on doing for the rest of IAP? Sleeping? Reading? Watching movies? Ah, yes, all of the above, and a few other things as well. For a week, I’ll be participating in the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program (UPOP) (, which I know sounds almost exactly like UROP, which can get very confusing. Well, UPOP is pretty different from UROP. It is an internship program sponsored by the School of Engineering that teaches sophomores about professional life, helps us get a summer job in industry, and assists in the transition from MIT to the Real World. They call the IAP seminar a “pre-employment boot camp” where we’re drilled with practice interviews and “mocktails.” Upperclassmen have raved about how useful it is and 98% of participants get a summer job!

Finally, I hope to take Beginners Life Drawing through the Student Art Association. One thing I feel that my class schedule lacks is an art class. Granted, there are many music classes available and a few in visual arts, but nothing like drawing, painting, or sculpture (correct me if ‘m wrong!). I just found out about the MIT Student Arts Association when I stumbled upon some of their kilns in the Student Center. So, hurray, now I get to learn how to draw! I have a lot of artsy people in my family, my aunt is an artist and my parents are architects. When I was little I loved to draw, but I was never really motivated to continue, but now I think it will be a good way to relax and have some fun. Other art classes available include: oil painting, clay, darkroom techniques, potter’s wheel, Chinese brush painting, Gum Bichromate, and more!

Ok, back to work! Good luck, everyone!

3 responses to “Looking ahead to IAP”

  1. Cinjon says:

    O Stirling engines are awesome!

    I have a couple questions that maybe you can ask when you do do the class:

    How much power can a stirling engine theoretically yield? And what are some examples of devices that require power in that range? And lastly, Is it possible to “combine” s. engines in order to generate more power?

  2. Eddi says:

    This picture with the 2 painting hands are awesome. Has someone a high resolution picture of it for using it as a wallpaper?