Skip to content ↓

To D or not to D? by Kim D. '09

MIT's Design Lab is tempting me.

I included this picture in a previous blog. I was tired of working, and it reminded me of the good times at MIT. Well, in Honduras, but related to MIT.

Going to Honduras was a sort of Grand Finale to a class I took in the Fall of 2007 about Development. It’s also known as D-Lab I. Right now, I have the chance to take D-Lab II. This class focuses less on the big picture of Development and more on Design; every group of four students chooses one project and follow it through over the course of a semester.

I’m not sure if I have the time for D-Lab this semester or not… I might take it even if I don’t, because these projects are pretty awesome. We have 15 to choose from, but here are my favorite 6:

1) Turning Plastic Bags into Rope and Netting — The world uses a trillion plastic bags every year, and many of them end of dotting the countrysides. There are so many hanging around in South Africa that people joke that they are the National Flower. What people could use more of is netting, to catch fish with and to put over beds to keep malaria-carrying mosquitoes off. Can we use plastic bags to do this?

2) A Bicycle Trailer — A previous D-Lab student created a bicycle ambulance for use in rural areas. Can we modify this design so that the ambulances can also be used to carry vegetables to market or bricks to a building site?

3) Bamboo Matchsticks — Bamboo plants grow quickly and their roots stabilize the soil. If we created the right machine, people in rural villages could mass-produce matchsticks. It would provide income for them, and also prevent the deforestation that currently occurs because of matchstick-making.

4) Interlocking Stabilized Soil Block Maker — Making bricks takes a lot of heat energy, which usually means burning a lot of fossil fuels. We can trade pressure for heat. We can also change the shape of bricks; if they are made to interlock, we won’t need mortar. This could revolutionize construction in the developing world.

5) Liquid Chlorine Dispenser — Deliver the correct amount of chlorine to personal containers as people get their water from a community source. This purifies the water right before the people drink it, so you don’t have to worry about re-contamination in transit. There’s already a device that does this, but it’s much too expensive.

6) Charcoal Briquette Press — Take bits of charcoal (created from sugar cane or corn cobs or any number of things by a process D-Lab already loves using). Form them into lots of little square briquettes. Make it fast and easy.

Of course, these are just my favorites… the other 9 are pretty awesome as well. Some of them involve using cell phones as a tool, or Braille, or solar heating. This is the definitely the class to take if you want to invent something people really want.

So, what do you think? Should I try to squeeze the class into my schedule? If I do, what project should I work on? Any suggestions for cool projects for future D-Lab classes?

31 responses to “To D or not to D?”

  1. comboy says:

    To D or not to D, yeah I would say Gimme D cheer

    How do you spell it? D-Lab
    Gimme D and next gamer can continue with –

    MIT marching BanD

  2. Valeria says:

    You have to take number 1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Plastic bags from supermarkets are 20% of the world trash and they take between 100 to 400 years to decompose, polluting the environment because they come from an oil derivation that increases the risk of developing cancer.

    Good luck!!!!!!

  3. Anonymous says:

    You know you want to take advantage of this opportunity. You so want to.

    I really like 1 and 3! They both seem to have a multitude of great outcome. with the bags, you recycle and provide people with useful tools. The bamboo matches save the rain forest from destruction and the people from poverty!

    Go for it! smile

  4. hopeful '13 says:

    Getting hands on experience and making a real difference at the same time? It just makes MIT seem more awesome. I especially like the third one.

  5. Tommy '13 says:

    Very interesting projects. It’s great to see how MIT students truly do make a global impact for the greater good.

  6. anon says:

    I would say that you should definitely try to fit this into your schedule. Each one sounds amazing, but I would go for either 1 or 3. But 1 seems the most appealing since it takes trash that’s already around and uses it in a helpful way.

    Good luck fitting this into your schedule.

  7. Samy, 13? says:

    Those projects would fit perfectly here in Guatemala too. They’d be interesting to develop.

  8. akhila says:

    Definitely, you should make time for D-Lab II. I think it woulb be nice if you go for either 1 or 2. They are more amazing than others.

  9. kimd says:

    @Samy D-Lab actually goes to Guatemala periodically. They tend to do work through a group called Maya Pedal. “Maya Pedal helps communities build low-cost devices such as blenders, washing machines, grain mills, water pumps, roof-tile makers, macadamia nut-hullers, and generators that are people-powered using bicycle parts.” Source:

  10. Mohit says:

    Take full advantage of your senior year!!

  11. Jamo says:

    Definitely try to fit it in. I really like the idea of innovation for a greater cause. Making a difference in the lives is noble and fulfilling. In fact, it sounds like a class I’d like to take if I get in. Lets make a difference everyone smile

  12. Sheila '13 says:

    Hmm..I like 1 and 4, but then, all of them are awesome ideas. I would say you go ahead and take the class. This is sounds like something I would like to do. xD

  13. Julio ('14?) says:

    D-Lab II sounds really fun. You should include it in your schedule. As for which projects I think are the best: I would choose 1 or 3. 1 re-uses trash but it can also create trash (soon or later, the nets or the covers will break and they will be dumped), and project 3 (my favorite) seems to be really fun. Project 3 would stop some deforestation, that way animals won’t get their environments affected and since no wild trees will be cut, the environmental balance will stay as it is (and more CO2 will be converted into O2), plus bamboo is quite pretty raspberry .

    PS: Is D-Lab a course specific class? Or can anyone from any course take it?

    ~Julio (’14)

  14. kimd says:

    Anyone can take D-Lab.

  15. I agree with hopeful ’13- that sounds so awesome! The first project sounds most interesting to me, but they all sound pretty awesome.

  16. Anonymous says:

    1 or 5 ftw! I’ve often thought of what to do with plastic bags. Always thought they could possible be made into more plastic bags (not really) but never rope

  17. Sean says:

    Hehe, I’m from South Africa in fact and I found the National Flower joke amusing. I would still pick 3 though as it seems to be the one that could be most effeciently implemented.

  18. MIT STUDent says:




  19. acosmin says:

    You should definitely take full advantage of your senior year!!

  20. anon says:

    this shows the responsible side of MIT

  21. sepideh says:

    wow D-lab sounds really exciting i would definitely go if i could get accepted at MIT, projects 1 and 3 are wonderful specially 3!
    GO GO GO lets save the planet and have fun! (am i going senile?)

  22. Anonymous says:

    Oh man I love those kinds of projects! I’d definitely do it. And now I want to take it someday at MIT.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Btw, does either D-Lab or 12.000 count for the HASS/HASS-D requirement

  24. You should do it! If you have enough time to write in your blog, you clearly have enough time to take an extra class ^_^. Also, graduation is scary, so you should do it before you graduate and lose the opportunity. Also, 1 sounds the most exciting to me. Also, if I could take an infinite number of classes, I would totally want to do D Lab next semester. But, alas, I am a mere mortal. In fact, I am a mere mortal taking J Lab next semester, so no D Lab for me. But D Lab sounds so shiny smile

  25. kimd says:

    D-Lab I (Development) counts as a HASS elective (beginning the year after I took it, unfortunately). The other D-Lab classes and 12.000 don’t give any HASS credit.

  26. Kunaal says:

    Hey Kim- I think you should DEFINITELY do it. It seems to be something that’s uniquely MIT- where you get a chance to go out there and do the real thing (instead of just the usual complex-sounding theoretical stuff!).

    So, I’d say THUMBS UP (LIKE BOTH) and two (semi-stinky) toes too! wink

    1 and 4 sound really fantabulous!
    The cycle one made me smile- you should try getting pictures of East Indian farmers and rural folks on bicycles- they put upto 3-4 people/ HUGE baskets full of veggies and farm produce on their bikes! Couldn’t really find a picture of an overloaded bicycle- but this picture of a err… rather full bus should give you the idea of how “well-utilized” transport is here, at the other side of the planet! smile

    And thanks for the post- great to know that MIT’s so community-focused! smile

  27. 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!!!

  28. please i have found you interestig. I am a second year student of the university of cape coast, Ghana who just wants to know more about you