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MIT student blogger Laura N. '09

Things that are awesome by Laura N. '09

being published, D-lab, and MISTI. Also cookies. But there are no cookies in this entry.

Well here are a whole bunch of interesting things, and I’m just going to blog about them all at once RIGHT NOW instead of putting them off until later (i.e. never). Ready, go.

1. I’m being published. For realz.

This is sort of weird because…well, I don’t have much interest in going into academia or research, so being published is just sort of generally interesting to me. I mean, I want to spend my life designing corn shellers for poor people in Africa, it’s not like being published is really in the same world, you know? Right now I’m just hoping the Peace Corps accepts me, and I really don’t think that sending an addendum to my application saying “Hey look! I’m published!” is really going to make a difference. It’s sort of like when Columbia accepted me but I was already so psyched about going to MIT that I just looked at the envelope and went, “Oh, that was nice of them.”

Okay, now I’m just being a snob. It also doesn’t help that the paper was well outside my normal field of study. So while I’ve been told that the IEEE Vehicular Technology Conference is a Big Deal, it’s not like I actually know anything about the IEEE.

Anyway, if you migrate over to the “Accepted Papers” section and happen to see a paper entitled ECall-compliant early crash notification service for portable and nomadic devices, rest assured that the third author is in fact yours truly and not some other Laura Nicholson from MIT. (True story, there’s actually a Laura Nicholson who is my year at Harvard. I was not blessed with a unique name.)

My influence is most clearly seen in the acceleration charts which made their way into the final paper. As a mechanical engineer, I was feeling a little lost when they asked me to create an emulator for the project. So I sort of threw something together and spent a bunch of time running crash simulations and plotting the results. I had no idea how to capture the data from Java directly to an Excel sheet (remember, mechanical engineer!) so it involved a lot of hacked solutions (ahem, copy paste). But when I showed the graphs I made to my coworkers, they were amazed. I guess they never would have thought of that. =)

Anyway, the point is, I know it’s awesome…but in my world, still less awesome than that time I was slashdotted.

2. I love MISTI.

I mean, first gave me my awesome experience in Spain. Then, they also sent me to Italy. (Blog entry to come, I promise!) Then, after I spent hours scouring the internet for employment opportunities last night and found absolutely nothing and finally went to bed miserable and depressed, I find this email in my inbox.

    • Dear MISTI program participant,

MISTI publishes an online resumebook for our corporate partners interested in hiring MIT grads. If you are going to be on the job market in the next six months, we encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity. The resume book has been effective in helping MISTI participants establish careers with firms such as Motorola, Siemens, and UTC in Asia, Europe and the US . For a complete list of MISTI corporate partners, visit

I replied within 30 seconds. MISTI, I love you. Thank you for helping me find a job. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

3. My D-Lab project kicks your D-Lab project’s….

Okay, 99.999% of the people reading this blog don’t have a D-Lab project. But anyway.

Kim already blogged about her favorite projects. Luckily for you, my favorites were totally different, so you get to hear about almost all of the proposals:

6. Bamboo pencil maker- bamboo grows quickly, so using it instead of other types of wood helps the planet. Also, making useful things out of bamboo can be a good source of income for people in developing nations. This project is to design a device which turns bamboo into pencils.
5. Recycling plastic bags- into fishing nets. How cool is that?
4. Yunus Challenge– energy storage is a tricky problem. How creative can you get in solving it?
3. Chlorine dispenser- the current design for dispensing chlorine to disinfect dirty water could use some improvement.
2. Cell phone baby scale- malnutrition is a big problem for young children in the developing world. This scale would measure a baby’s height and weight and use Bluetooth or cell phone signals to send the information to a central database at the nearest health clinic. This saves mothers from having to walk hours or days to reach the clinic and have their baby weighed. The health clinic could send back messages indicating if the baby’s weight is of any concern.

And, by far the coolest project evar, which I was lucky enough to be assigned to:

1. Hydropowered lantern- imagine you live in Peru, and you don’t have electricity in your house. In order to see at night, you use lanterns which use expensive kerosene, produce irritating smoke, and pose a fire hazard. The weather is usually cloudy, so there’s not much solar power to be harvested, but you (and nearly everyone in your village) live only a few hundred feet from a small stream. You have a nifty lantern that you can just drop into the stream and let the running water charge it up for use that night.

I am officially going to spend the rest of the semester designing such a device.

How. cool. is that? =)

42 responses to “Things that are awesome”

  1. Bilal says:

    Totally love the hydro-powered lantern thing…if only I had the chance to build something like that it would be soooo awesome.
    I so love MIT
    How come Kim didn’t mention this one..its way better than all the rest from where I see it..

  2. kimd says:

    smile Sorry, Bilal… everyone has different tastes. Actually, I do think it’s a really awesome project, but I wouldn’t know where to begin on it. The hydro-powered lantern is supposed to be powered by these shallow, slow-moving (as far as I can tell) streams. A couple of years ago I looked into hydropower stuff sortof briefly, and the current technologies seem to rely on a good deal of water pressure being around. I’m definitely interested in seeing what Laura’s team comes up with.

  3. Laura says:

    Oh yeah, make no mistake, this project is going to be HARD. I don’t think I know where to begin either, but I’m psyched for a challenge. I will obviously keep everyone posted. Kim, I think you were assigned to the plastic bag project, right? That one also seems pretty hard, I think, just in that it’s very open ended and not much work has been done on it yet.

  4. Susan says:

    Huh. So you get a flywheel attachment and then you build a big cone so the water has to travel through a smallish hole in order to go through. Then attach the lantern so that part of the flywheel is at the edge of the hole and can be turned by the difference in pressure. Coolio.

  5. Aditya says:

    So that Bluetooth is supposed to work over several kilometres? Are you guys planning to upgrade Bluetooth technology or something?

  6. Laura says:

    Aditya: Sorry, I explained that poorly and glossed over some details. That project is also in a very new stage, so it’s completely open to whatever solution that group comes up with. The scale could either have built in phone capabilities and would send the data directly, or use Bluetooth to transfer the data to a cell phone, which could then send the data.

  7. kimd says:

    @Laura – nope, I’m actually on stabilized soil blocks. Yay playing with dirt!

  8. Susan says:

    Where by flywheel I mean “propeller or turbine that can be easily rotated about an axis and can thereby by rotated by water pressure.”

  9. Soham says:

    Where did you stay in Italy.Please visit India once.It is a wonderful country.I am an Indian And I say this because you will love the food and culture out here.

  10. Steph says:

    Coolness. Those projects sound really fun, especially the hydropowered lantern.

  11. Aditya says:

    Ah. Thanks for explaining that! (Though I was hoping for an upgrade in Bluetooth technology =( )

  12. AfricanKid says:

    @Luara: if do succeed in designing the hydro powered lantern – now that would simply be amazing. Such a technology would have the potential to revolutionize and change the world for the better – living in Africa, I know what a problem lack of reliable power supply is … Please keep us posted on the the progress of this project and if you need any help :D go Lauara!

  13. Reena says:

    Hi Laura!
    Is it allowed to take D-lab II without taking D-lab I first? Or is D-lab I a prerequisite?

  14. how can i get admission in undergraduate (Electronic, Electrical, Com)

  15. Rebecca says:

    hey, i know this is unrelated, and i’m sorry, but i can’t find the fax number for undergrad admissions. i just got selected as a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, and i really want to send a copy of my certificate to MIT so maybe they’ll admit me, but i cant find it. could you send it to me please?? and sorry if its somewhere totally obvious. =D

  16. Liz says:

    D-lab sounds like the most wonderful, amazing course possible and it makes every fiber of my being excited. Not hyperbole.
    I’m going to go think about the Yunus challenge instead of sleeping tonight. smile

  17. abhi says:

    I read the transfer form for MIT.Do I just need to download it, get its printouts,give the evaluation letters to my teachers and fill in the rest(along with the letters)with pen(black ink)?
    Also,since many teachers are willing to give me recommendations,should I get many printouts of evaluation letters and give it to them or should I ask them to do so in separate sheets?
    Please reply soon!!!

  18. Laura says:

    abhi: Sorry, I’m not qualified to answer questions like that. Give admissions a call and talk to someone in the office.

    Rebecca: Same thing. I don’t see the fax number either, but if I were you I’d just call them on Monday and ask them what it is. =)

  19. @abhi

    Submit only the required number of recommendations, one more or so, worst case. A large number of recommendations simply doesn’t help your case, what you need is a couple of strong recommendations indicating your strengths and weaknesses very clearly. Additional recommendations will only be meaningful if they mention something significantly different from what has already been mentioned on the other recommendations.

  20. Bilal says:

    totally agree that everyone has different interests..
    but isn’t ‘don’t know where to begin with’ the whole challenge?
    And a couple of years is more than enough for technology to improve..

  21. Bilal says:

    I just read my post it sounds a bit too blunt..and a bit too harsh…I didn’t mean it to

  22. Rankeya says:

    @Laura: the hydro powered lantern is pretty much like this radio device that was popularized in Africa. It didn’t need batteries. You have to like wind a particular lever with your hands a few times round and the radio gets charged and begins to play. I think one complete revolution of the lever thingie can make the radio run for an hour. Its not exactly the same concept but the principle is to convert mechanical energy into some other form in both right. So may be designing something on the same lines only this time to produce light instead of noise could do the trick. I think the project you have chosen is really cool. I personally went nuts over the radio concept.

  23. KC (-: says:

    Isn’t it wierd how cookies are called cookies when they’re actually baked. They should be called bakies. Just one of lifes great mysteries. lol. I hope people actually read this!

  24. rankeya says:

    @rebecca: here 617-258-8304. atleast dis is d fax no. on my MYMIT account.

  25. Ryan says:

    I had no idea how to capture the data from Java directly to an Excel sheet (remember, mechanical engineer!) so it involved a lot of hacked solutions (ahem, copy paste).

    If you output to a plain garden-variety output.txt file, as long as you put a tab between each cell and a newline between each row, Excel opens it.

    I found this out after-the-fact too. tongue laugh

  26. Anonymous says:

    please get down to earth

    the real world will land you soon

  27. Rebecca says:

    thanks a ton rankeya, i didnt even think to look there! also your blog was cool, laura. i think it would be amazing to make either the cell-phone baby scale or the hydropowered lantern…maybe i’ll crack those before i even get to MIT and show all ya’ll up!! lol just kidding. =D

  28. '11 says:

    LOL! Congrats on being published. BTW, I use ApachePOI to move data between Java and Excel.

  29. Jamo says:

    well, the name “cookies” was actually derived from the dutch word “koekje” (or koekie) which translates to “little cake” and sounds like “cookie”. The concept of the cookie has been around for a long time, but it only existed in America since the dutch immigration in the 1600’s. So that’s why we call then cookies as opposed to say “biscuits” in Britain.

    Lil’ bit of cookies history wink

  30. Nxvjqyfc says:

    Very interesting tale

  31. Jixin Shang says:

    hi,i am a chinese boy and i am 22 years old.i am a freshman in China Agricultueal University.
    i love MIT very much,and want to make more friends,i think you are so outstanding,and want to be make friends with you.
    i think we will communicate very happy.i am also want to improve my english.
    this is my email:[email protected] am waiting for your letter.
    best wishes!
    Jixin Shang

  32. Isra says:

    I second many of the comments above that D Lab is one of the most INTERESTING courses at MIT! smile
    I had a question though…I do not plan to pursue engineering courses at MIT, rather I’m more aligned towards the SLOAN school. Considering that, will I have such(or different) opportunities if I’m accepted to MIT? Btw, the Hydropowered lantern sounds so constructive..because I have studied for my examinations without 10-12 hrs (out of 24)of power for days because of lack of water in DAMS for hydroelectricity…but thanks to my better financial conditions, my parents bought me a electrical charging light. But what about those who can’t afford such facilities? Such initiatives provide so much hope for the unfortunate. Your’s and Kim’s posts are as inspirational! Go MIT!!

  33. Anonymous says:

    That sounds VERY hopeful…MIT really is on the road of its mission to create a difference in the world. This is one major reason I adore and so-want-to attend the institution! Btw, Danielle, what are you majoring in?

  34. Isra says:

    That sounds VERY hopeful…MIT really is on the road of its mission to create a difference in the world. This is one major reason I adore and so-want-to attend the institution! Btw, Danielle, what are you majoring in?

  35. Anonymous says:

    woops, i forgot to put my name in the first one..sorry for spamming so much laura!

  36. Isra says:

    woops, I forgot to put my name in the first one..sorry for spamming so much laura!

  37. Isra says:

    something is so wrong!

    P.S:- I am not an idiot :D

  38. There are TONS of international development projects of all flavors. I’m working with M-Lab (Mobility Lab) and one of the projects is starting a non-profit that will help people in Africa get wheelchairs. It’s definitely on the SLOAN side – one of the advisors is from the SLOAN school!

  39. Anonymous says:

    wow. congrats on the TOTALLY AWESOME D-lab project. though my personal favorite was the yunus challenge, the AquaLantern would have been my next pick.