Monday, April 14, 2008

Media Lab UROP with LLK

It's been a while since I've done an update about my life. I finally got a UROP a few weeks back with the Media Lab! They do many crazy things in the Media Lab (as demonstrated by the robot post earlier). I'm working with the Lifelong Kindergarten group, which develops tools/toys to help children (and adults too) learn. Their main website is here if you want to learn more:

I decided I wanted to experience some of the more unique and wacky cultures at MIT, so that is why I chose to look for a UROP in the Media Lab. So far I'm having lots of fun and I'm learning a lot too. It isn't the same type of research as those of other departments, but it is still useful. I would say you should at least try out a UROP once, whether it is during the school year or during the summer, because you never know what you might learn!

I'm working with a grad student on a project called "Camera for the Invisible." This camera is no ordinary camera. It doesn't take pictures, but it can measure temperature, resistance between objects, and other cool things. It outputs the data by sound right now, but we are working on a light output. So, for example, if the temperature of an object is high, the sound that comes out of the camera will be a series of fast beeps, whereas if the object is cooler, the sound will be slower and the beeps will be different. The point of this device is so that people can come up with their own experiments and explore the world around them. I'm learning a lot about electronics, which I love, and it goes hand-in-hand with the electronics course I'm taking this semester (6.071).

I really like the grad student I'm working with, and I like the spirit of the entire group in general. Everyone is friendly, enthusiastic, and full of fun and crazy ideas.

Here is how I actually got my UROP:

Finding a UROP is very easy, but you need to keep these things in mind:
-Just because a UROP is not listed anywhere does not mean they don't take UROPers. Go bug them. Go talk to them. Be friendly and be curious about their research. Ask if they take on UROPers. They probably do. In general, I've noticed many profs do not respond to email, so seriously, just go and talk to them!!!!
-Make sure to emphasize why you think you would be a good candidate for a UROP. If you don't have any proof of your interest in their research, they won't want to take you on as a UROPer. If you don't have any previous experience in the field, do some research and read articles about it. Show them you care and really want it. If it just "sounds interesting" to you, and that's your only reason for wanting to work for them, then you probably aren't going to get an offer. They want to choose people that will fit their lab and their research.
-As for actually finding UROPs, just look through the different lab research profiles (, as well as professors' bios. Choose a few areas that sound cool, and then GO TALK TO THE PROFESSOR OR GRADUATE STUDENTS WORKING FOR THEM.

As for my story:
-I found a cool looking lab online (the Lifelong Kindergarten lab, which essentially creates learning tools/toys for children. I'm learning a lot about electronics and design, which is pretty fun.)
-I emailed the professor 3 times over three response
-Finally I went to the lab myself to talk to someone. The prof wasn't there, but a few grad students were. I talked to one of them, he showed me around. I told him the things I was interested in, and my previous experiences that applied to the UROP specifically. I asked him if he would be willing to work with me. He said yes!
-Presto! I had a UROP within a few days. (Of course...I had to apply through the UROP office and do some paperwork after that, so I didn't officially have a UROP until later)

Maybe I was lucky, but most of my other friends had similar experiences. As long as you can prove you are interested and think their research is really amazing and cool, you have a very good chance of getting a UROP.

Zen Garden in Simmons!

During the first weekend in April, I helped plant a Zen garden INSIDE Simmons Hall! We've always wanted more greenery in our dorm, so our housemaster brainstormed some ideas. We thought a small garden in the entrance to Simmons was a great start. Later on, we'll probably plant a lot more greenery on our terraces. Our facilities chair, Zach (who is amazing at everything he does), was in charge of the garden. We poured some concrete to make a border. Then, we laid down a waterproof tarp so we didn't ruin the floor and some gravel (for drainage). We then mixed some soil and fertilizer, then finally planted some ferns and moss. We also have one flowering plant, which you can feed insects :-). Everything is still growing at the moment, but I'm excited to see what everything looks like in a few months.

We also decided to add some rocks to our garden. We didn't want to pay ridiculous prices for rocks, so we were resourceful. We had an adventure on the rail road tracks behind Simmons, which is full of unwanted rocks :-). We just took a grocery cart and piled rocks in. We got stuck in the mud, but eventually made it back to Simmons. Getting stuck was actually a good thing, because we found some moss by the tracks and salvaged it.

Planting the garden was fun and I hope I can help with further developments. Right now I'm trying to grow some
plants in my room: a lemon tree, a pear tree, and an avocado tree. Nothing has germinated yet, but hopefully something will happen in a few weeks! I'll keep you guys updated. I've posted some pictures of the entire process below.

Nexi the Robot

The Media Lab's latest robot is called "Nexi." She can show emotions and move around, unlike previous robots the Media lab has built.

Read more here:

And watch the video below:

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

One of my professors won a Pulitzer!!!!

I have generally liked all of my creative writing classes, mostly because the writing professors at MIT are awesome. Junot Diaz, whose writing class I took spring of my sophomore year, just won a Pulitzer for his novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao! I read his novel a little while after it came out, and loved it. The book's style might not be for everyone though--if you read normal fiction and hate anything that is eccentric and/or punk-style, or if you are faint-of-heart, it's probably not for you. But Diaz's book is a fun read for those who enjoy all genres, especially a mix of science fiction and normal life, so pick it up! The book is not science, but the main character enjoys science fiction, and the style reminds me of punk science fiction like Snow Crash. One of the reasons the book is so unique is that it takes all these crazy genres and melts them all together with a taste of Dominican Republic culture

Congrats to Professor Diaz, who I really hope returns next year to teach so that I can take another class from him before I graduate.

This is one of the reasons MIT is so cool. We have amazing, talented people here!

Read more here