Life at SEAS

During the MakeHarvard hackathon, two students from the University of Toronto work on a mobile carrier for a smart phone device in the Active Learning Labs. (Photo by Alana Davitt/SEAS Communications)

A medly of makers

Harvard’s first engineering hackathon creates a weekend of collaboration

By Alana Davitt, A.B. '19, SEAS Correspondent

More than two hundred students were presented with hundreds of pounds of materials, dozens of workstations scattered throughout Pierce Hall and the Maxwell Dworkin building, soldering irons, voltmeters, electrical parts, bolts, screws, drills, and more, with only one objective: to make stuff.

This was the scene in the University’s engineering buildings over the weekend of Feb. 3 and 4 at the MakeHarvard Engineering Hackathon. The inaugural event, hosted by the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), was inspired in part by a computer science hackathon students organized this fall.

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Senior thesis poster session highlights inspirations

By Alana Davitt, A.B. ’19, SEAS Correspondent

What inspires an engineer? Visitors to the Engineering Design Projects (ES 100) poster presentations in Cabot Science Library on Jan. 31 had the chance to find out.

As the SEAS seniors explained the preliminary research and iterations behind their thesis projects, inspirations ranged from how birds can constrict their wings to avoid obstacles, to how labor intensive it is for humans build fences. Kelly Steeves (pictured above), S.B. ’18, a mechanical engineering concentrator, was inspired by burning her tongue. She’s creating a new thermos insulated with bee’s wax.

ES 100 is a course designed to guide Harvard seniors in solving real world engineering problems. Students have inspired friends, professors, and mentors with their proposals thus far, as we can’t wait to see how the world will improve with the completion of these designs.

Kenneth Kim, A.B. '21, motorized longboard

Why walk to class when you can ride? After balking at the cost of a new bicycle (which he would have to lock up outside, exposed to the elements), freshman Kenneth Kim opted to engineer his own, more practical method to zip around campus—a motorized longboard. A motor underneath the board is operated by an electronic speed controller that receives signals from a remote control. Inserting a key into the board completes the circuit and fires up the battery-powered motor, Kim explained. He developed the project in the SEAS Active Learning Labs during a Project Night, an open work session offered weekly to unite undergraduate and graduate students throughout Harvard’s science and engineering programs. So far, he’s recorded a top speed of 17 miles per hour (but he is still trying to beat that record.) “This is a lot more fun to ride than a bike and it is more economical, too,” he said. “I’d never skateboarded before I built this project, but this is a lot easier to ride than a traditional longboard because you don’t have to worry about pushing off. All you have to worry about is straight balance.”

Sophomores Catarina Do and Jessican Han, mechanical engineering concentrators, pose with friend Billy Koech, S.B. ’20 an electrical engineering concentrator. Upperclassmen attended the freshman advising event to meet and offer advice to members of the class of 2021. (Photo by Alana Davitt/SEAS Communications)

Freshmen get a taste of SEAS

By Alana Davitt, A.B. ’19, SEAS Correspondent

Maxwell Dworkin was buzzing with excited freshmen on Jan. 22, ending students’ first day back in class on a happy note. The Freshman Advising Event brought professors and students from Harvard’s engineering, applied math, and computer science concentrations together, along with Union Square Donuts, to offer students interested in SEAS a friendly environment to ask questions.

Phil Labrum, a member of the class of 2021, mused: “There’s a lot I can still decide on…” He is interested in computer science and mechanical engineering, but like most freshmen, is still unsure of what passion to pursue as a concentration.

Sophomore Derek Taylor, on the other hand, has declared computer science, but came to the advising event for course lists that were handed out for each area of study: “I’m seeking a secondary in applied math and just read about a course on computation I now hope to take.”

Harvard SEAS offers advising events throughout the year to keep students like Labrum and Taylor informed and excited about their course work.

George Mo, A.B. '21, Magnetic Levitator

Levitation has long been a source of fascination for many, from Buddhist monks to street magicians. Curiosity inspired freshman George Mo to use engineering to replicate this mysterious phenomenon. Mo created a levitation device that uses an electromagnet to create and adjust a magnetic field that holds a third magnet suspended in thin air. He developed the project in the SEAS Active Learning Labs during a Project Night, an open work session offered weekly to unite undergraduate and graduate students throughout Harvard’s science and engineering programs. He is still fine-tuning his device, and plans to alter the electromagnet and experiment with different magnets to improve the levitation. For Mo, whose background is in computer science, the opportunity to work on a hardware-focused project was eye-opening. “I learned that it takes a lot of precision and understanding to design a hardware project. Coming from a very software-focused background, it definitely takes a lot of math to build something like this and I gained a real appreciation for that,” he said. “I’ve learned that it is very satisfying building something that you can touch and have that feedback.”

Science and Cooking Project Fair

Students (from left) Sean Henson, Liam Gavin, Theo Mendez, and Pierce O’Donnell use a helium tank to inflate a sugar balloon during the project fair for “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter.”  The complicated recipe for the balloons, which uses a number of modernist thickeners, was pioneered by a three Michelin star restaurant in Chicago. The students set out to replicate the recipe using ingredients common to every home kitchen—corn starch, corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, and water. “With just five or 10 minutes of prep, you can be blowing up balloons that are actually edible,” said Mendez, A.B. ’19, an applied math concentrator. “We did this with the goal of trying to engage young chefs and make the recipe more accessible to a broad audience.”

Students in the Harvard GameDevs gather around to watch one prototype game being played. (Photo by Alana Davitt/SEAS Communications.)


Rebecca Gracia, SB '18, has her resumes ready to give to potential employers. A Mechanical engineering concentrator, Gracia is looking for a company with the right fit, both technical and creative. (Photo by Alana Davitt/SEAS Communications.)

Engineering Career Fair Collaborative showcases a world of opportunities

By Alana Davitt, A.B. '19, SEAS Correspondent

On Wednesday, Nov. 15, representatives from engineering firms around the country set up booths at the Sheraton Commander in Cambridge to reach an eager audience of engineering undergrads from all over Boston and the greater New England area for the Engineering Career Fair Collaborative. A wide range of organizations, such as Amazon Robotics and Los Alamos National Laboratory, representing diverse fields from medical devices to transportation, greeted students from Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Tufts University, Olin College and Yale University.

The atmosphere was full of excitement and apprehension as many suit-clad undergrads passed along resumes to the employers of their dreams. The event was a success in exposure for both types of attendees; companies met with a wealth of talented students, while young engineers caught a glimpse of what their future careers might look like. 

Sophomores Daniel Sherman, Joel Balkaran, and Alyssa Salinas are all newly declared S.B. biomedical engineering concentrators. These friends say they’re all excited for what lies ahead. (Photo by Alana Davitt/SEAS Communications.)

SEAS advising events help students choose concentrations

By Alana Davitt, A.B. '19, SEAS Correspondent

The evening of Monday, Nov. 6, was full of advising for members of the SEAS community. Students and faculty advisors from both engineering and applied math held office hour events. The advising night attracted many sophomores approaching their concentration declaration deadline. The second-year students met over meals in Maxwell Dworkin and Ticknor Lounge to celebrate their course of study decisions and ask for advice from peers about the coursework that lies ahead.

Alumnus Les Servi, Ph.D. '81, speaks with applied math concentrator Miruna Cristus, A.B. ’19, after giving a career talk as part of a speaker series organized by the Harvard Applied Math Society. (Photo by Alana Davitt/SEAS Communications.)

SEAS alumnus and applied mathematician shares career wisdom with students

By Alana Davitt, A.B. '19, SEAS Correspondent

Les Servi, Ph.D. ’81, head of the decision analytics group at The MITRE Company, shared insights from his wide-ranging career to kick off the first in a series of professional talks organized by the Harvard Applied Math Society (HAMS).

By offering tips from applied mathematicians working in the field, the series seeks to enlighten undergrads on the vast array of career options available to them. Topics range from graduate school applications and summer internships to how a doctoral thesis can apply to projects 20 years into a career.

Servi, who studied engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), imparted wisdom gained from careers in both industry and academia. He has worked at Bell Laboratories, GTE (now Verizon) Laboratories, and MITRE, in addition to serving as visiting scientist at MIT and Harvard.

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Students (from left) Elizabeth Healey, Daisy Evariz, Andrea Rodriguez-Marin Freudmann, Leatrice Bulls, and Allison Tsay at the WE17 Conference in Austin, Texas.

Students attend Women in Engineering conference

Members of the Harvard Society of Women Engineers (SWE) recently attended the WE17 Conference, hosted by the national Society of Women Engineers, in Austin, Texas. WE17 is the world’s largest conference and career fair for women in engineering and technology.

Harvard SWE members attended the career fair, participated in professional and academic development workshops, and networked with more than 10,000 other women engineers from around the world. 

“The SWE conference was my first professional conference and my experience was amazing," said Leatrice Bulls, S.B. '20, a mechanical engineering concentrator and SWE publicity chair. "Being in an environment full of intelligent and accomplished women was truly inspiring.“

"WE17 was an incredible opportunity to be surrounded by aspiring engineers, academics, and industry professionals. Attending the conference definitely broadened my horizons about the many different avenues one can pursue as an engineer, including research, government, and entrepreneurship," said Allison Tsay, S.B. '19, an electrical engineering concentrator and SWE president. "I believe attending a conference like this is important for any woman pursuing an engineering degree, especially freshmen and sophomores. Knowing that there is a global network of women engineers out there and experiencing firsthand the excitement from the conference can further ignite a student's passion for engineering."

Mechanical engineering concentrators Eboni White, S.B. ’17, and Robert Anderson, S.B. ’19, face off for a duel at the SEAS Halloween Party (Photo by Alana Davitt).

Students showcase creativity at Halloween party

By Alana Davitt, A.B. '19, SEAS Correspondent

Halloween night for the students at SEAS was composed of design, decoration, and deliciousness. The Active Learning Labs staff hosted a special project night in the Science Center to mark the occasion. Ghouls were seen mixing with pirates by the candy bowl, discussing components of their homemade costumes. Other students tinkered alongside their peers in the workshop space. Science Center Room 102 had a lot to offer creative minds, whether experimenting with the sewing machines to create impressive costumes or learning to cast and mold in silicon to make frighteningly realistic Halloween props.

Students tour iRobot headquarters

The Harvard Society of Women Engineers and the Harvard College Engineering Society recently toured the iRobot headquarters in Bedford, Mass. Students learned about the company's extensive history in the various sub-fields in robotics and witnessed live robot demonstrations. (Photo provided by Allison Tsay, S.B. '19.)

Jake Seaton, A.B. ’19, a computer science concentrator, (front left), is coding to save lost pets. Working with event attendees he met this weekend, they are creating a database that allows people to report lost animals and others to report locations of found ones, as well as match photos of missing pets. (Photo by Alana Davitt/SEAS Communications.)

Using technology for good

By Alana Davitt, A.B. '19, SEAS Correspondent

"It’s the hacking spirit. You see something cool and want to play with it. Here you can,” explained Audrey Effenberger, A.B. ’19, a neurobiology concentrator and design team member for HackHarvard.

The 36-hour computer hacking event, hosted by Harvard from Oct. 20-22, brought together 30 event organizers, nearly 700 college students from around the globe, and many big-name sponsors including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. The theme for this year’s HackHarvard, now in its third year, was “Breaking new ground: crossing new boundaries, discovering new solutions, and pushing the intersection of technology and society forward.”

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Isaac Struhl, A.B.  '21, a computer science concentrator, and Vladislav Sevostianov, A.B. ’19, an earth and planetary sciences concentrator (covered), pose with the John Harvard mold and mask they created using The Active Learning Lab's thermoforming device. The device heats the mold before students drop a plastic sheet overtop that forms to the shape. (Photo by Alana Davitt.)

Hallowen fun during Project Night

By Alana Davitt, SEAS Correspondent

Project Nights in the Active Learning Labs take place every Tuesday from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. as part of an initiative to unite undergraduate and graduate students throughout Harvard’s science and engineering programs. On Tuesday, Oct. 17, freshmen were trained to use the laser cutters and upperclassmen modeled independent project pieces in SolidWorks, while a group of graduate students talked through design iterations for their classes. After pizza was served, interested students even learned to operate a thermoformer to mold Halloween masks. The evening was a perfect balance of productivity and fun.