January 31, 2008

MIT Student-Athletes and The IAP Experience

Jan. 31, 2008


The Independent Activities Period (IAP) is a special four week term at MIT that runs from the first week of January until the end of the month. IAP 2008 takes place from January 7 through February 1.

For more than three decades, IAP has provided members of the MIT community (students, faculty, staff, and alums) with a unique opportunity to organize, sponsor and participate in a wide variety of activities, including how-to sessions, forums, athletic endeavors, lecture series, films, tours, recitals and contests.

For students and faculty, IAP provides a welcome break from the academic routine of the fall and spring semesters. It offers opportunities for creativity and flexibility in teaching and learning. Students are encouraged to set their own educational agendas, pursue independent projects, meet with faculty, or pursue many other options not possible during the semester. Faculty are free to introduce innovative educational experiments as IAP activities.

For all members of the MIT Community, IAP offers the perfect opportunity to create offerings aimed at sharing a particular talent, expertise or interest with others at the Institute. Some individuals and departments offer seminars, lectures, and open houses as a way to showcase their year-round efforts in supporting the MIT Community.

Others use IAP to share interests and talents not necessarily related to their day-to-day MIT roles. Many faculty, staff, and students organize activities based on personal interests, such as art, music, film, cooking, and hobbies. As a result, IAP often gives us the chance to learn something new about our fellow students, colleagues, and friends.

IAP offerings are distinguished by their variety, innovative spirit, and fusion of fun and learning. Past IAP activities have ranged from credit activities such as human biochemistry lectures and community service workshops, to noncredit offerings such as Meditteranean cooking classes and improvisational comedy workshops.

Below is a sampling of what members of the MIT Lightweight Crew have done during IAP:

Aaron Blankstein '10 (Jacksonville, Fla.)
This year I'm competing in the Battlecode Competition. We write an artificial intelligence for virtual robots that will be battling other teams' robots at the end of IAP. We end up doing a lot of cool AI to get our robots to communicate, navigate difficult terrain and generally kill the enemy while capturing key areas. Here's the website for the event: http://battlecode.mit.edu/2008/

Russell Ryan '09 (Indianapolis, Ind.)
For my sophomore year, I took 6.189, a Playstation 3 development course. I designed a Real-time Interactive Raytracer for the Playstation 3, which achieved particularly impressive framerates due to the processing power of the PS3 mixed with some really cool algorithms a heavyweight varsity rower (now graduated) and I came up with.

We presented it at the 2007 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco as special guests of Sony. Here's the website about it (with a video of our project): http://www.cag.csail.mit.edu/ps3/blue-steel.shtml

That was definitely the coolest thing I've ever done for IAP; not many undergrads get the privilege of presenting their work at a major conference in their field. It's why I love MIT so much; it's so easy to get exposure to the real world.

For my freshman year, I enrolled in MASLab (6.186) : Robotics Design competition, we built (from scratch) a computerized robot and programmed it to use vision algorithms to seek red balls on a complex playing field, pick them up, and carry them to goals. http://maslab.csail.mit.edu/

The class is definitely an awesome use of IAP for mechancial/electrical engineers and computer science majors (even aero/astro people).

This IAP (my junior year), I have been involved with "BattleCode" http://battlecode.mit.edu/2008/contestants/index

Basically you program a computer to control an army of robots to effectively explore a map, capturing strategic locations, and fighting the enemy computer when you encounter them.

Peter Iannucci '11 (Palo Alto, Calif.)
6.270 involves designing, constructing, and programming an autonomous LEGO robot to compete in a tournament exhibiting strategy, navigation, and finesse as your robot completes a series of goals (which vary from year to year).

6.370 is a programming competition based on the "Battlecode" game developed specifically for the tournament. Players will write a program in Java to be run on each of a small army of virtual robots on a dueling field; their robots must react to their environment and communicate with each other to make collective strategic decisions, while managing scarce resources like energy and computing power.

Arya Tafvizi '10 (Tehran, Iran)
During IAP, I work full-time at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and space research (http://space.mit.edu/). My work is designing and building a suspension system for the Transition Edge Sensors and also in the Micro-X project, which will be launched by NASA in 2011.

I'm also a member of MIT Zero-G Team, and spend some of my time designing an experiment to examine Aerogel formation in microgravity. We'll probably perform the experiment in a zerogravity plane sometime this year.

Trevor Shannon '11 (Charlotte, N.C.)
I'm doing a autonomous LEGO robot competition with two other teammates, as well as building my own loudspeakers with a speaker-building class.

Alex Hayman '08 (Maiden Rock, Wis.)
I've been working on the design and construction of a new solar electric vehicle, which we are hoping to race in the North American Solar Challenge this July. Solar cars share many features with the racing shells in our boathouse. The shell of our vehicle is made out of the same materials as a shell, carbon fiber, kevlar, honeycomb core. Solar car racers talk about speed, power, efficiency, endurance, and reliability just as rowers do. My involvement with the solar car team has given me a second opportunity to take a long term goal, and throw myself into it. Eastern Sprints 2008 and the 2008 North American Solar Challenge will truly be the defining moments of my MIT experience. http://www.mitsolar.com