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MIT student blogger Lulu L. '09

Making Things Fly by Lulu L. '09

for a living.

The only course that comes remotely close to being as badass as aero/astro is nuclear engineering and even they don’t have jet engines.

If you’re an aero/astro major at MIT you, too, will take a (24-unit) class called Unified Engineering your sophomore year. Mostly, you get to wake up at obscene hours of the morning to attend a 2 hour long double lecture. And you get to do this every day. You get to do one double-pset and a lab each week, sit through eight full-length exams per semester, and spend sleepless nights cursing stress tensors and wondering how you’ll ever make it through this week. If that’s not enough to make you just DIE to be an aero/astro major, you also get to do this:

It has lightning bolts on the side and its name is Grease Lightning. Its empty mass is 0.1kg and coefficient of drag is 0.21. The lightning bolts make it faster while the paint job makes it stylish; a perfect combination of aesthetics and performance, I introduce to you our pride and joy, our fast and our furious, our bottle rocket.

Lab 6: Design and test your own water bottle rocket.
Work with a partner to design, build, and test a water rocket with an objective of maximizing the height of trajectory. You may do anything to the bottle except cut into it. The winning team will have the greatest average max height over their two best flights.

10 hours in the lab and it was born. Held together by an indiscernible combination of tape, glue, and more glue, it sat atop my mini-fridge for a long, suspenseful day before its first chance at the launch pad. Will it live up to its name? Will it make it through this day? Only time will tell.

Launch Day:

After a fitful night’s sleep we head for Briggs Field where everything was coming to a head. On our way I take pictures.

A close-up:

A glamour shot:

Jesse explains the aerodynamic properties of our rocket. He goes into depth about the streamlined design of the tip to minimize drag, the payload inside the nose and the extended length that shift the center of mass upward to increase stability. He talks about the 120 degree separation of the fins and their careful placement to create maximum rocket stability while minimizing drag, and the rounded leading edge of the fin to gently separate the airflow over its two faces and the sharp trailing edge to bring it back together. He talks about the carefully chosen name and color scheme and how they were NOT indeed the whims of a giggling school girl and the only two colors of spray paint we found in the cabinet.

Yes but what does a rocket do, Jesse?

For those that are interested, this is our official design:

(Fearing I might intimidate prospective freshmen with the perceived meticulousness of the average MIT student, I feel I must interrupt this blog entry to share with you something much more representative of the typical caliber of my work,

and what “labeled diagrams” usually means to me:


Upon arrival we could tell the competition was going to be stiff. We were intimidated by the other teams’ looks of ruthless determination.

Each one fiercer than the last.

We watched them each set up,

take aim,

and fire.

Rockets shot up so high they were only a dot in the sky.

By the time it was our turn it’d started getting dark and I have to admit we were pretty excited. My pictures became sporadic because I was giddy. Also, I was helping out in whatever way I could. Our success or failure rested heavy on my frail but determined shoulders.

Me: “Get out of the way let me do that.”
Jesse: “Ok.”
Me: “How do you do it?”

I decided to let my assistant do the honors.

*creak* *creak* *creeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaak*

And off it went.

I tried really hard to get a picture of the rocket in its ascent before it left the upper atmosphere but the shutter speed was too long (it was getting quite dark) and it was moving too fast and ended up disappearing in each picture. However, I did get a nice snapshot of it in orbit:

It didn’t do so hot on the re-entry…
we lost 2 fins.

No matter, our launch was regaled as a stunning success (max height >90m). We packed up and headed off the field feeling pretty darn good about ourselves. And had a post-launch celebration:

Moral of the story? Rocket science rocks.

I will leave you with a deeply moving tribute I like to call “All-American Football Hero Walking Away Looks Back Longingly Under a Turbulent Sky. Near Briggs Field.”

Have a great weekend! Yeah!


84 responses to “Making Things Fly”

  1. salamanca says:

    wonderful ! good job!

  2. Laura says:

    That last picture of the football player is really cool, but mostly I just like it because of its title. =P

  3. Adri says:

    Aww, I remember we made bottle rockets a couple years ago for PREP.
    Never did put that attention to the design. In fact, my entire design consisted of cutting apart a cereal box for fins, throwing some pennies in a car funnel, and attaching the whole thing with duct tape. Then spray painting it. Good times, good times.
    Nice pictures. smile

  4. Thuita Maina says:


    That’s was an act of a genius! Am a prospective freshman but am not intimadated; your article has made me like MIT more.

  5. Anonymous says:

    great job lulu, your pictures inspire me to study hard in high school so i can get into MIT!

  6. Thuita Maina says:


    Great idea; why don’t you guys include a verification code before one posts a comment in blog pages. I think this will prevent spam or automated programs from inserting comments like the first one.

  7. lulu says:


    I’m really glad I can make a difference in the life of a budding youth. I hope you do well on your SATs and get stellar recommendations! Don’t forget to thank your parents for all their support for the last 20 years as you embark on this new chapter of your life!

    P.S. I hate you! smile

  8. yanners says:

    I love your photography! What kind of camera do you use?

  9. Christina says:

    Awesome, awesome. Picture posts are so great for those of us who can’t hold concentration long enough to read through entire blog entries without skimming. raspberry

  10. V Patel says:

    I wonder how people handle all that pressure. I may be in high school, but I still want to go to MIT to study Aerospace…

  11. Adam says:

    Lets see. You (or a partner) estimated the max height at 61m, but it actually went >90m? That’s 47.5% error! Horrible! Failure! Just kidding..

    It’s awesome that your rocket went that high.. but where do you think all of that error came from? Just curious. grin

    Finally, I happened to be in an airplane in the area, and saw your rocket reentering the atmosphere. I managed to take a picture of it in the 30 nanoseconds it took to pass my window. I have absolutely no clue why it is expelling fire – it just is. Here is the picture.

    Yeah, yeah.. I know it is a horribly made picture. I would have done better if I had used photoshop or something. This one is just paint.

    Anyway, congrats on your excellent rocket, and good luck with Unified Engineering. *shudders*
    -Adam, hopeful for class of ’11

  12. Adam says:

    Sorry for the double post, but I found this interesting-
    Thuita Maina-
    I actually don’t think the first comment was spam… I looked up the meaning of дЄНйФЩ, and apparently it means “Not bad” or “pretty good”, which seems to be a reasonable response ot this post.

    Heh, no clue why someone posted in Chinese, though.

  13. lulu says:




    We were encouraged to use any material we deemed fit we could find in the lab. The most common used were balsa wood, foam, razor blades, carbon fiber, … and… glue. My partner managed to glue all his fingers together more than once.


    Canon DSLR – Rebel to be exact. I have 2 lenses. I brought the wrong one on that day but it was ok smile

    V Patel-

    I don’t know how we do it either, 60 psi is a lot of pressure.

  14. Zaira says:

    OMG!!! You are an Aero/Astro student!

    Sorry, I get over-excited about those things! You became my favorite blogger with the pictures you posted last time. Course 16 just made your blog perfect! =D

  15. lulu says:


    lol, that’s horrifying. No wonder about the fins :/

    also, in our lab writeup we had to talk all about the error. we split up the writeup so you can only read the parts I wrote but here, I will link you:

  16. Adam says:

    Thanks for the quick reply about the error (19 minutes!) I’m quite interested in Aero-astro myself (Honestly, I can’t really decide between Physics, Mech. Engineering, and Aero/Astro. Thats what the undeclared 1st year is for!)

    Do you know how quickly the water leaves the rocket? You’d think that the optimal mass would also depend on this figure (unless it leaves quickly enough to be negligible)

    Unfortunately my only experience with rockets are those baking soda and vinegar film canister ones, and model rockets with model rocket engines. Its quite impressive that you got something that high with just water. Seriously, that is a football-field height straight up! Finally, how did the TA’s measure the height? The only way I could think of doing that would be to have them go away a set distance, measure the angle when the rocket is at max height, and then do some trig. Is that how it was done? I’m curious.

    Thanks very much for answering all of our questions,

  17. Nina says:

    Hi, I just have a quick question. I’m loving the photography and was wondering if you sent along a portfolio with your application. Do you know if a solid portfolio could increase chances? Thanks!

  18. KATE BEYONCE says:




  19. lulu says:


    how fast the water empties out of the rocket is a function of the pressure inside the bottle the pressure outside the bottle, and density of the water. (use Bernoulli’s) In our case, the pressure was about 5 atm inside the bottle so the bottle emptied in 0.06 s.

    the TA’s measured the height with 2 of those angle things (they’re called theodolites), and yeah, the rest is just trig and a bit of algebra.


    yeah, I sent a mini portfolio. It wasn’t very good and wasn’t very together, I just stuck a couple of prints in the envelope w/ my application. As for whether it helps, who knows. I imagine they’d be treated like any other talent/interest.

  20. Stephanie C. says:

    Great Job!. Smart design too. I don’t think I’d have thought of the pennies in the nose or the suffocation for the glue on the fins. And about your work?….O.O… WOW!… I think the scary part is I understand, for the most part, what I can see on your papers. Did you win? If not, what was the winning height?

    I love the pic with football player near Briggs Field. I especially love the title. Lol. Oooo! I just can’t wait for the 21st of November to come. I want to visit MIT NOW! It looks so great and incredibly fun!

    And to Adam. Your right, the person was telling her ‘Not bad.’ Makes me wonder why the put it in Chinese too. Hmmm. Maybe the font on their computer’s in chinese?

  21. Stephanie C. says:

    Sorry for the double post. But they probably put it in chinese because Lulu was born in China, and they figured that she’d understand it. And if she does, then I feel stupid right now so yeah….

  22. lulu says:

    We were the highest for that launch day. Overall winners are yet to be announced (if they ever will be).

  23. Joan says:

    Hey. I was wondering how Rune works. Can you just walk in? Are there complex rules for being a part of Rune?

  24. Irena says:

    Your photos are awesome. What’s the camera you use?

  25. Amy says:


  26. Chris R. says:


    This is why i love MIT and MIT blogs… These are the kind of posts that super distract me when that EA deadline is fast approaching! These are the kind of post that make me love MIT more and more and more and more and (continue to infinity)…

  27. koreanfan says:

    lulu.. is this really you? :O

    I can’t believe a simple water bottle can go that far in the sky. I hope your team wins!

    I love your blog, the pictures make it more interesting. give us more!

  28. lulu says:



  29. lulu says:

    canon d-slr, ma’am.

  30. Jaci says:

    Hmm. That is almost cool enough to motivate me to study for the silly SAT IIs I have this weekend.
    (For the record…its very cool. However, I think it would take nothing short of a miracle to make me want to study for a test in courses I took last year.)

  31. lulu says:

    Joan –

    sorry, didn’t see your question- Rune is a REALLY tiny organization in terms of staff (think less than 10) so we’re ALWAYS welcome to new members any time. our meetings are once a week for usually an hour or so and if you’d like to join us just stop in (if you happen to know where we are when) or shoot us an email first (if you don’t). [email protected] goes to all of us smile

    THINK ABOUT IT. ~~art~~.

  32. lulu says:


    I’m sorry.

    I hate SATs.

  33. James says:

    Arnold Palmer, the perfect way to celebrate anything (or nothing!)

    Awesome stuff, I sent this to a friend of mine who’s attending Capitol College for Aero.

  34. lulu says:

    damn straight, brother

  35. Chris says:

    Ni hao lulu =)

    I was curious about something in your previous blog. You said you submitted an extra essay under the “Additional Information Section”. Are we allowed to send in another essay, or should that section be used to elaborate on things already said in our application (i.e. By “activityX” i mean this…)


  36. salamanca says:

    Someone said “why someone posted in Chinese”.in fact,I am surprised.
    At least I know many people are paying attention to MIT and what happens in MIT besides me.
    lulu.L ,йЧЃдЄАдЄЛпЉМдљ†жЭ•иЗ™дЄ≠еЫљеРЧпЉЯдєЛжЙАдї•дЄїи¶БйЧЃжШѓеЫ†дЄЇжИСиІЙеЊЧдљ†зЪДеРНе≠ЧеЊИдЄ≠еЫљеМЦпЉБ
    lulu.L пЉМask u a question: r u from china? I feel your name china-like.

    my E-mail address :[email protected]
    u can contact with me by E-mail…………@@@@

  37. Eileen says:

    What if I want a groovy MIT jacket too?

  38. lulu says:

    then you’re out of luck! unless by some miracle you have feet. to take you to the bookstore.

  39. Jack says:

    I like aero. But not for rockets. i wanna run my F1 car…in Ferrari… But first I wanna get the admission!!!

  40. chris says:

    Lol im pretty sure LuLu is chinese… (definitely doesn’t sound korean), but who knows, maybe im wrong =)

  41. chris says:

    How do we know that Salamanca is chinese? -> her email ends in the domain and she probably uses QQ/MSN instead of Aim wink

  42. chris says:

    How do we know that Salamanca is chinese? -> her email ends in the domain and she probably uses QQ/MSN instead of Aim wink

  43. salamanca says:

    Maybe I made a mistake.I took lulu.L for еИШйЬ≤йЬ≤пЉИa chinese nameпЉЙ.Sorry^^^^lulu

    MY E-mail: [email protected]
    I welcome you to contact

  44. bigrice says:

    why not use the yahoo message instead of aim?I think yahoo is a better choice.^_^

  45. Adam says:

    Hi bigrice,
    In my opinion, Google Talk is FAR superior to any other messaging program. grin

  46. glareflair17 says:

    first of all Thuita Maina, you need a life because you are always on the MIT blogs.

    Secondly, LuLu you’re awesome thanks for the pics. it’s as close to MIT as we can get.

  47. What the!? Watch where ya aim that thing. Sheeeesh

  48. Bryan says:

    Yes! Aero/Astro Engineering is definitely the best there is, no doubts about that. It gets even better, though, when you start launching rockets that go four thousand feet and are five and a half feet tall.

  49. bigrice says:

    google’ IM is not support encrypt can use a sniff tools to get some message of other people’s.

  50. Modhurima says:

    Great rocket, Lulu! I love the design!

  51. Jack says:

    Oh…I think my application essay is within 600 words. BTW, Aerodynamics seems fascinating to me.. Great pics here! A Typical MIT!!

    PS: i don’t like AIM. i can’t send over messages if buddies are not available… MSN is better…I never try google TALK…

    PS’ : how many chinese and chinese applicants here? Count me in!

  52. I was just wondering, I am about to submit my MIT application online, and yesterday i typed up a 2500 word synopsis on my model building experience with some computational theory, the written application doesnt have a word limit but the online component does, any suggestions fast! T_T (other than not procrastinating anymore?)

  53. l0ngL says:

    I love your photography.

  54. mike says:

    “thanks in advance” I hope you mean 250 words, 2,500 words is about 9 pages, and that is hardly a synopsis. Keep in mind that whatever you write the admissions office will have to read, along with the writing submissions of the other thousands of applicants.

    I would recommend drastically shortening your synopsis; as it would be my guess that the admissions office cares more about your ability to express your ideas succinctly than every last detail about your vast technical knowledge of computational model building theory.

    that’s my two cents.


  55. Anonymous says:

    Hmm…I’m not sure if I’m allowed to post here since I already go here, but I need to ask about the 8/16 double major, since I’m considering it myself. How is it?
    More specifically,
    Do you have any flexibility in classes?
    Are you dooing 8-A or 8-B?
    How is the workload?
    What is your UROP in/how does that fit in with everything?
    What career options are you considering

    Wow, I just realized I wrote a ****load of questions and there is no way someone in unified could answer them. Pick and choose which to answer, or answer none at all, or ignore/diss me. But have you time, then this would be useful.

    Anonymous ’10

  56. salamanca says:

    chris : yes . I am a chinese!I love MIT!
    so I often come here!

    lulu.L: you and your friends are very creative.
    great rocket!

  57. lulu says:

    Anonymous (why anonymous, it’s not like i’m going to flame you raspberry)-

    The difference between 8 and 8b (with the classes I want to take) is pretty much just a semester of junior lab. now physics majors would laugh if they saw the word “just” in front of junior lab but the thing is not everyone wants to go into experimental physics and junior lab would have to overlap the 18 unit systems lab in course 16. I would grab the 8 if it wouldn’t involve me stepping too far out of the way of my interests but if it means giving up 2 astrophysics classes to take an extra semester of junior lab, I’d probably not do it.

    In terms of the workload it’s definitely doable but I dont think anyone is going to find it easy. I pretty much end up having a pset (or lab) to do every weeknight and then (ideally…)a day or maybe a day and a half to relax on the weekend. The weekend is usually when I end up doing work for my hass/UROP. It gets exponentially harder some weeks than others if you have a test AND pset (something unified likes to do) simply because you dont have any space in your schedule to squeeze in extra study time. Like a few weeks ago I had 3 tests 3 psets and a lab all in a week and that was kind of sh**ty so if you’re willing to put up with 2 or 3 of those weeks per semester and pretty much perma-homework it’s not bad. I like understanding the equations we use in engineering better because of physics and I like the little projects I get to bring home because of engineering so it’s a good balance for me.

    I work with LIGO for my UROP. LIGO is the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (it’s pretty clear why they decided to forego the Wave in the acronym) joint operated by MIT and Caltech. It’s really cool and something I look forward to doing every week. THe volume of data coming in from this project is just phenomenal and so most of my job consists of data analysis. I’m not going to attempt to explain general relativity to you in a little text box (I don’t understand much about it at this point either- only halfway through special relativity) so I’ll link you to my ligo webpage and you can take a look around (I linked a really very good article about LIGO for an introduction of sorts):

    I have no idea what I want to do for a career and I don’t want to think about it.

    I left the most important question for last and that’s the one about course flexibility in considering a double. Look, the way I see it, your bachelor’s degree is nothing. In terms of the name on the diploma you might have majored in underwater basketweaving and if you know your stuff you will still get into grad school. Your undergrad years is much more a time for exploration and just dicking around (academically) finding things you like to do and just overall enjoying your studies. It’s bad enough to have to take classes you don’t want to take for a major (which might be unavoidable), don’t go out of your way to make your own life miserable by going all or nothing on a second major. Because the truth is, there is almost NO course flexibility in doing a double, hell, you have to take more than the recommended load every semester (5, in some case 6 classes) but you don’t feel it if the second major consists of classes that ARE electives to you. Classes that you truly really just want to take for the sake of taking. I could strike physics off my list of majors and I’d still end up taking the same classes, because I don’t want to leave MIT (for god’s sake) without having taken a class in quantum or string theory or black holes…. Personally, I think that’s the only way to survive a double.

  58. Ben Golub says:

    rawwrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr smile

  59. Rex Mundi says:

    hello!! tht was gr8 and te pic was awesome.the day will come when human bieng will only use this and …… to the world ROCKET SCIENCE.

  60. mike says:



  61. Kelly says:



  62. mike says:

    kelly жШѓзМ™гАВ

  63. Anonymous says:


    (you non-chinese readers, don’t even try to tranlate the previous, it won’t make sense tongue laugh)

    i wasn’t gonna write at first, but then someone said something about QQ/MSN, well, I just heard a “di di di.” so, I guess I have to write something in chinese…..

    btw, i am crossing my fingers, hoping to claim myself to be ’11……

  64. lulu says:

    ahh, what does it all mean!

  65. Anonymous says:

    (if double posting is bad, sorry i am being Anonymous bad)

    i did try using google to translate, it is actually HILARIOUS

  66. lulu says:

    MIIIIIKEEEEEE, tell me what they’re saying oh god I’m so confused

  67. Anonymous says:

    Ha, Lulu, you are here as i am writing it

    kinda went back to your other blog entry and learned that you came when you were 8, well, that makes a difference. wasn’t trying to confuse you, just, uh, to scare you a bit tongue laugh

    (third time is the charm! Anonymous^3)

  68. lulu says:

    i’m just kiddin’, I can read chinese.

  69. xiaoming says:

    жИСи¶БжЭ•MITиѓїдє¶!I have been looking forward to studying at MIT in someday! But I have not got enough money! wu wu ~~~~~~~

  70. Anonymous says:

    Don’t be confused about “йїСе§ЬйїСжИњпЉМжЧ†дЇЛеПѓењЩгАВйЧ≤йАЫдєЛиЃЄпЉМжГКиІБж±Йиѓ≠гАВйЇїзЬБзРЖеЈ•пЉМдЇЙиЊ©ж≠£еЗґгАВиЛ±жЦЗеЬ®дЄКпЉМеЫЊзЙЗжЭ•еЄЃгАВжЧ†еРНдєЛе£ЂпЉМж±Йиѓ≠е§ЇеКњгАВжДПе§Це¶ВиҐ≠пЉМеНіеПИдЄНе•ЗгАВжµЈеЖЕзЯ•еЈ±пЉМ姩洃жѓФйВїгАВ”.

    Someone express his/her thoughts after she/he reading above comments!

  71. lulu says:

    “ay did it rly enter low earth orbit?”


  72. Will says:

    ay did it rly enter low earth orbit?

  73. u of c says:

    lulu will you marry me??

  74. u of c says:

    lulu will you marry me??

  75. йЬ≤йЬ≤,жИСдЉЪйЭЮеЄЄйЂШеЕі,е¶ВжЮЬдљ†дЉЪеЂБзїЩжИС.

  76. lulu says:

    darling dearest,

    I withdrew my application ages ago, I thought my feelings for you were clear :(

  77. u of c says:

    lulu, if ive learned anything from college its that you sould never withdraw prematurely!! smile
    get it?

  78. u of c says:

    my application check bounced on my MIT app :(