Archive for the ‘Science&Technology’ Category

USC, here I come!

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

I am starting my master’s education in chemical engineering this fall at USC. The catch? I’ll be working full-time at the same time!

The thought about whether or not I was going to pursue higher education had been stressing me out since before I even graduated from MIT. The “advice” I’d heard from most people was that the longer you wait, the less inclined you are to leave your cozy job. I felt myself falling into the same trap. The longer I wait, the more difficult it will be to find the initiative. I like my current job, and it keeps better and better as I am given more responsibility and complicated plants. I’ve already learned so much that I couldn’t have learned in school, and the master’s classes I’ll be taking will help supplement that knowledge, now that I have a better idea of why the heck they taught us all that stuff in undergrad. It will also put me in a better position should I consider obtaining a PhD in the future. For now it’s all up in the air.

The thought of working and going to school scares me a bit. I barely find time outside of work now; how will I do with grad-level classes added on top of it? Do I continue the weekly choir rehearsals and violin lessons? Do I put off hanging out with friends even more than I do now? Whenever I am faced with these questions, I tell myself, “I had one semester where I took seven MIT classes and had a colorful social/romantic life. If I got through that, I could get through anything!” Seriously, my MIT experience is a reminder that I’m capable of a lot more than I think I can handle.

What does this all mean for you, the reader? I will have even less time to blog! I find, though, that the more I have on my plate, the better I am at managing my time (also, procrastinating). It’s not like I blog often now anyway, so this will probably have a minimal impact on your lives. Phew!

The one thing I can’t wait for is the student discounts for concert tickets again! As a frequent concert-goer, that was the most discouraging thing about being out of school.

MIT Energy Conference Nuggets

Monday, April 4th, 2011

I went to the 6th annual MIT Energy Conference this past month, partly because I had missed Boston, and partly because MIT alumni had a registration discount. Similar to my sustainability conference blog post last year, here’s a smattering of takeaway messages I got out of it.

But first, an image. This was the only picture I snapped all weekend, during the Friday Night Showcase of hundreds of new energy technologies. Naturally, I was drawn to the oil and biofuels panels, but I made my rounds through all the exhibits. The big round thing was some sort of floating wind turbine.

The conference had quite a military focus, which brought in a different perspective for the motivation for innovations in energy. The keynote speaker Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’s speech was particularly striking with the main idea, “Energy is fundamentally an issue of national security.” The most staggering factoid: Every time oil prices increase by $1, the Navy spends an extra $31 million due to the steep cost of transporting and guarding fuel to remote areas like Afghanistan. Therefore, the Navy’s goal is to obtain 50% of its energy from alternative sources by 2020. 17% of the energy is already obtained from nuclear power. Since energy diversity leads to energy security, the military is taking leadership in energy innovation.

One panel discussed the impacts of Obama’s goal of having one million electric vehicles in the U.S. fleet by 2010. The speakers mentioned considerations for Seattle’s electric vehicle infrastructure (70% of charging stations will be residential, there will be 1.4 charging stations per electric vehicle, software integration for finding and/or reserving chargers, etc.). The message that stuck with me from this one was that the increase in electric vehicles is not large enough to require a new power plant until 2/3 of the fleet is electric. The greater concern is around upgrading the local circuits (transformers, etc.).

Another panel that caught my attention was one around upcoming renewable fuels technologies. One company, called Joule Unlimited, is developing energy obtained from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water, utilizing alternative metabolic pathways with genetic engineering – the speaker threw out the term “industrial photosynthesis.” Their goal is to derive a closed carbon cycle like how nature intended it to be. Sun Catalytix also sounded confident in displacing fossil fuels with the promise of harnessing energy from water. ARPA-E also funds non-photosynthetic technology for biofuels. All piqued my interest.

The conference itself was very well organized and executed by a team of around a hundred current MIT students. They had even prepared fact sheets for various energy sources and handed them out to each conference attendant, along with a tote bag and a mug. I also ran into two MIT alum friends that work in energy, whom I didn’t know were in Boston, which was a plus!

This blog entry doesn’t really do the conference justice, but the conference did enable me to explore the cutting edge research and development taking place in energy by participating in awesome discussions I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. For instance, I met several people who had worked in oil companies for 20 years before transferring into these interesting start-ups to help develop and scale up the technology. Sounds pretty awesome; I’d be down for that sometime in the future!

So Jealous.

Monday, April 4th, 2011

During my intense marathon of reading through and tagging all 10 years of my blog posts a few months ago, I noticed that I did not mention MIT once here since graduating almost four years ago. This came as a shock to me, because I’m still quite involved with the Institvte by serving as a volunteer (secretary, specifically) in our local alumni club. I’ve also visited MIT three times since graduation.

2011 is a special year for MIT, as it is the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Institute. The sesquicentennial is being celebrated over several months with festivals, symposia, and various events, collectively called MIT150. And here I am, sitting in Los Angeles, drooling over all the events and cursing my life for not being in Boston right now.

The event that is making me salivate the most is FAST: Festival of Art, Science, and Technology, which spans three months. Yes, MIT does have arts, and even music majors, of which I was one. The item of most interest is the New Music Marathon on April 15th, which, regrettably, I can’t make. Guys, this concert is THE CONCERT OF MY DREAMS. It is a five-hour marathon of new music, with Kronos Quartet, Bang-on-a-Can, Wu Man, Gamelan Galak Tika, and MIT Chamber Chorus! When else in life is the world going to be blessed with such a lineup?! I seriously considered buying plane tickets to Boston just to make that concert and fly back the following morning, but, alas, it is on the same day as a special person’s birthday, and I have to perform in a choir concert that weekend. I also just visited Boston not even a month ago, so I thought it might be a bit of a waste. After weeks of suffering through the painful decision process, I’ve managed to let it go. Could they have it as a webcast?! My, that would be lovely.

I mentioned that I was in Boston recently. While there, I did catch one FAST concert, the Language of Music concert on March 5th. This concert was a special treat, because the program was comprised of compositions entirely by MIT music professors I had studied under. Justin and I enjoyed ourselves immensely as we explored the beautifully distinct styles of each of our ex-professors. I was glad to find out that they still remember me, too. I’d like to think of it as a consolation prize for not being able to make the April 15th concert. Please excuse me while I go into my corner and sulk some more.

*10 Years of Blogging*

Monday, December 27th, 2010

I’m pleased to announce that today is the tenth anniversary of this blog. I vaguely remember the evening the winter break of my sophomore year of high school when I was bored enough to start a blog – isn’t that how all personal blogs have started, anyway? I accumulated a sizeable amount of writings over the past ten years that have been festering silently on my webspace. In commemoration of this milestone, I spent many hours this year sifting through all of the writings to tag and categorize each post. It enabled me to organize the blog and provided me with hours of introspection as I was reminded of my high school and college years.

The internet was almost unrecognizably different ten years ago:

  • My website was hosted on Geocities accounts. Actually, it was hosted on two Geocities accounts, because each account had a 2 MB storage limit.
  • My operating system was Mac OS9.
  • I used Netscape as my browser. Firefox didn’t exist.
  • I had a Yahoo! e-mail account. I checked it using Eudora!
  • People used AIM and ICQ for chatting.
  • Blog posts did not have titles.
  • Blog posts did not have commenting systems.
  • There were no tag clouds, no categories.
  • There were no news feeds. I visited my friends’ blogs by manually visiting each website every day.
  • Needless to say, there were no Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. The blog, back in the day, catered to all those needs.

As the Internet landscape changed, so did blogging and its place in the world. When I first started my blog in 2000, its purpose was to keep my friends updated with what I was doing every day in my life. The only people who read it were my closest friends and my parents and I was quite detailed with it. As my audience grew, web trends emerged, and I learned to filter my thoughts, the entries began to have more content. For instance, a lot of my old entries were one-liners, which I would today put in a Twitter feed. What is left behind are now the more distilled thoughts put in writing.

Blogs have become too rigid, in my opinion. Most blog entries resemble newspaper or magazine articles, and they almost always have at least one large image accompanying them; God forbid we post writing without a picture lest nobody will want to read it. It’s become so formulaic! Anything I post is now broadcast to upwards of 900 people on my Facebook feed, and 200 people on my Twitter feed. That puts a barrier on the amount of “garbage” I can post on my blog just because I feel like it.

The Internet and computer technology weren’t the only things that went through large changes in the past ten years. Obviously I changed, too:

  • I was fifteen years old when I started the blog, which is pretty obvious from the difference in maturity levels.
  • I had pretty crappy taste in music. I was passionate about music, but my tastes were misdirected. I’m so glad I majored in music in college.
  • It took a lot of self-discovery and time to find friends I liked, and figured out my place in social situations and relationships.

I was also surprised to see that some things haven’t changed at all:

  • While I’ve been able to handle the increasing workloads through high school and college, my sense of time management has always been faulty. Faulty but sufficient for the tasks at hand. It just means I get everything done, but with less sleep.
  • I’ve had amazing consistency through my activities, passions, and goals. I had always wanted to pursue the sciences and music at the same time. I ended up majoring in both in college and I still do my best to be functional in both.
  • Same as back then, I still get caught up in the Internet and have difficulty managing the amount of time I spend at the computer.
  • I used to love matching my outfits and wearing a different outfit each time long before Matchingfreak was born.
  • Choir was and will always be one of my favorite things, ever.
  • Apparently I’ve always been crazy about food. And pigeons.

Here’s to another ten years of blogging.

Self-regulatory dreams

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Earlier this week, I dreamt that I chose to ditch a field trip at work to visit a compressor repair facility (which actually existed in real life) to attend a composition seminar (which my dream world made up for me). I felt a bit guilty about the whole ordeal, because I neglected to notify the organizer of the compressor facility visit, and I didn’t have his cell phone number. The seminar itself was mildly intriguing, but I was yawning and mildly distracted. I felt a pang of guilt and regret that I chose it over the compressor shop, and felt that the compressor shop would have been more educational and satisfying.

This is an interesting dream following a frustrating weekend where I mourned my lack of time to focus more on music. The frustration was so intense that the other part of me said, “You care about engineering, too — ADMIT IT.” The dream was nicely timed, as it was quite a busy week at work this week, and the dream provided an inspirational boost.

Sustainability nuggets on Earth Day

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Last month, I went to the First Conference of Sustainability for the Pacific Northwest Region in Seattle, sponsored by AIChE’s Institute for Sustainability. The conference had pretty good coverage of progress on various sustainability efforts, and the curriculum was a balanced mix of technical and social topics.

What better day than today to reflect on my learnings? Here is a simple list of “nuggets” or take-away messages I jotted down.

Sustainability General

  • The three pillars of sustainability: Energy Security, Economic Productivity, Environmental Impact.
  • Many speakers mentioned the need for metrics to measure progress in sustainability, especially in the corporate world. Only then will it be possible to compare to benchmarks, set goals, and monitor progress.
  • Water is a raw material, not a utility. ~1 billion people lack access to clean water.
  • Sustainability can be profitable for companies, because minimizing waste and optimizing energy usage save on costs.
  • Optimal sustainability has higher net positive benefit than zero impact.


  • There is much biofuels research, but the constraint to scale-up is insufficient biofuel feedstock needed for an industrial scale.
  • Algae was popular for producing biomass, but it grows too slowly for an industrial production purpose.
  • Gasoline and diesel provide 96% of the United States’ transportation.
  • Even if all cars become electric, liquid transportation fuels are required for heavy truck engines.
  • Ethanol makes gasoline blending difficult; it needs to fit the existing infrastructure (distribution, nozzles, car components).
  • If terrestrial carbon is not valued, it can lead to destruction of unmanaged forests and pastures.
  • Net water intensity of power can be high. Low-carbon energy solutions can be water intensive (i.e. up to 90% more water used in carbon capture and sequestration).
  • Today’s electric grid operates in a “just in time” production process, with uncontrolled demand. Its challenges are a changing supply mix, increased demand, complexity of grid, and the vulnerability of energy infrastructure.
  • A smart grid could turn off idle/unneeded power consumers so that the power distribution is optimized during peak hours. These changes would only last a few minutes and would be unnoticed.
  • Peak shaving can be achieved through incentives. In addition, allowing consumers to monitor the power consumption of their appliances motivates them to minimize their power usage.
  • Closing the nuclear fuel cycle ideally requires 20% of the total nuclear reactors to be fast breeder reactors to manage waste from light water reactors. The key steps for moving forward include improving safeguards technology, lowering cost of reprocessing, identifying disposal path for wastes, and addressing public concerns regarding safety.

Other factoids

  • Biogas generated as a byproduct of digesters in wastewater plants is often treated and used for powering the engines/boilers and for natural gas sales.
  • 3% of the world’s water is fresh water. 0.3% of fresh water is surface water. 87% of surface water comes from lakes.
  • 96% of all consumer goods are petroleum-derived.
  • Mixtures of bacteria can be utilized to produce specialty chemicals (for plastics, artificial flavors and fragrances) from various kinds of biomass.
  • 90% of coal is put into the power system.
  • Reducing end-use by one unit saves at least three units source energy.
  • John Tyndall described the greenhouse effect in the 1860s. Arrhenius wrote about increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 1896.
  • Global warming is unequivocal. The principles are settled, but the effects are unpredictable. Global average temperature will “likely” increase 2-5 degC, but it may increase up to 12 degC. This will likely change the distribution of water thoughout the year (rain vs. snow water).

Those were some of the more interesting points I captured in my notes. Of course, I don’t go into much detail here. You can find more infomation about the topics and speakers on the conference website.

I like this quote.

Thursday, August 4th, 2005

One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.
— J.D. Watson, “The Double Helix”

This is so true.

Saturday, April 2nd, 2005

I did something stupid in lab again…. After carefully taking the agarose gel out of the box without breaking it (which took a long time), I immediately dropped it on the floor and it split into several pieces. After the initial shock, we were able to pick it up off the floor and continue with our experiment (cutting out the bands that had our desired DNA on it). We had to be really careful, though, because the gel has a carcinogen in it that inserts itself into DNA. It didn’t help things that Shilpa stepped and slid on a piece!

ew, lab

Thursday, March 31st, 2005

Today was one of the worst lab days. First, I grabbed the bucket off a shelf to get some ice, and it happened to be filled with water (it’s supposed to be empty! it’s always been empty!!), so I ended up spilling it all over my lab partner’s notebook. It was soaked. Later on, I used way too much plasmid sample to make a dilution, so we had none left for our other experiment. We had to ask the TAs for it and wait around until they prepared it for us. I’m so clumsy and I don’t want to be. I’m just really stupid when it comes to lab. I always do something wrong! All the time!

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005

I dislike planning for the future. I still don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow, let alone next week.
My classmates have been applying for summer internships since January, but I don’t want to think about it.. I don’t even want an internship, but I need it. I’ve applied to one internship; if I’m not accepted to it, I’m pretty much apathetic about doing anything else. I applied to Eczacıbaşı, a big pharmaceutical company in Turkey today. Apparently it’s hard to get an internship there because there are a lot of applicants. We’re gonna find out the results in May…