When MIT announced plans to welcome back some undergraduates, ramp up research operations, and increase the number of staff on campus this past fall, its administration was faced with the challenge of doing so in a way that minimized the risk of an outbreak on campus. In typical MIT fashion, several teams of engineers and researchers started designing and building solutions to protect the campus community.
Thanh Nguyen is in the habit of breaking down barriers. Take languages, for instance: Nguyen, a third-year doctoral candidate in nuclear science and engineering (NSE), wanted “to connect with other people and cultures” for his work and social life, he says, so he learned Vietnamese, French, German, and Russian, and is now taking an MIT course in Mandarin. But this drive to push past obstacles really comes to the fore in his research, where Nguyen is trying to crack the secrets of a new and burgeoning branch of physics.
1970 was a milestone year for efforts to combat air pollution. On April 22, the first Earth Day was celebrated. The 1970 Clean Air Act was the first policy to establish federal regulations on car and industry emissions. In July, President Nixon announced his plan to establish the United States Environmental Protection Agency by the end of the year. In the midst of this progress, a team of MIT students and faculty, with assistance from Caltech, organized the Clean Air Car Race – a competition to see which of the many entrants could make the 3,600 miles from MIT to Caltech in fast, rally-style race, while meeting new stringent emissions standards.
Lillian ‘Lilly’ Papalia, a rising junior in mechanical engineering, is enrolled in the New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET)'s Autonomous Machines thread. Her team won the GM/MIT Blacktop Build during MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP) and in doing so carried forward a NEET tradition — NEET Autonomous Machines student Sebastian Uribe was among four winners of the first hackathon sponsored by GM during IAP 2018. The challenge in 2020, was to explore how to simulate human and environmental acoustics for speech recognition and performance testing.
When deciding on a major, one thing was clear for Michelle Kornberg — she didn’t want to be stuck inside for four years. “I like the environment of working on something in the lab, but I grew up in a very outdoorsy family,” she says. “I definitely knew I didn’t want to be inside all the time.”
Natalie Lao was set on becoming an electrical engineer, like her parents, until she stumbled on course 6.S192 (Making Mobile Apps), taught by Professor Hal Abelson. Here was a blueprint for turning a smartphone into a tool for finding clean drinking water, or sorting pictures of faces, or doing just about anything. “I thought, I wish people knew building tech could be like this,” she said on a recent afternoon, taking a break from writing her dissertation.
Mechanical engineering students in MIT D-Lab are working with collaborators in Uganda on a solution for the health hazards associated with wood-burning stoves. For millions of people globally, cooking in their own homes can be detrimental to their health, and sometimes deadly. The World Health Organization estimates that 3.8 million people a year die as a result of the soot and smoke generated in traditional wood-burning cookstoves. Women and children in particular are at risk of pneumonia, stroke, lung cancer, or low birth weight.
Over the summer, four mechanical engineering graduate students had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience working in industry. Through the recently launched Industry Immersion Project Program (I2P), students were paired with a company and tasked with tackling a short-term project. Projects in this inaugural year for the program came from a diverse range of industries, including manufacturing, robotics, and aerospace engineering.
For the fourth summer in a row, 16 rising sophomores visited civilization-spanning structures and monuments in Italy through the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s ONE-MA3 program, which integrates the study of art, architecture, and archaeology. During the three-week field course, which is supported by the AREA3 Association (Associazione per la Ricerca e l'Educazione nell'Arte, Archeologia e Architettura), students conducted research on ancient artifacts and structural materials to inspire new research projects grounded in time, which they explore further in the fall semester in 1.057 (Heritage Science and Technology).
Cloudy beige liquid swirls inside a large bioreactor resembling a French press as Jenna Ahn examines small flasks nearby. The lab where Ahn is working, in the subbasement of Building 66, has the feel of a beehive. She’s part of one of nine teams of undergraduates huddling in groups at their benches. Every now and then, someone darts off to use a larger piece of equipment among the shakers, spectrometers, flasks, scales, incubators, and bioreactors lining the walls.