More Good News from IMEC in Belgium

By Chelsea Bailey '16


The 6 Oliners
researching in Belgium this summer, along with some of Olin's foreign exchange

Last summer, we wrote about the
adventures of a few Olin students
who were spending the summer doing
research at imec in Belgium. This year
we have more good news to share from across the pond! 

Rising sophomore Madison May has been awarded the first ever
RVO award from imec, a nano-electronics research center, for his work in
sustainable housing.  Madison and five
other Oliners (Breauna Campbell '14, Alex Spies '15,  Jaehee Park '15,
Janie Harari '15) are spending this summer working at imec's world-renowned
labs performing highly technical research. We decided to check in with Madison
and hear a bit more about the award he received and just what he's been up to
over there!


How did you end up at
imec this summer?

I had a chance to speak to Stijn (the project leader at
CORE) for a few minutes at our career fair last spring, and interviewed with
him later that day.  About a week later I found out I'd been accepted, and
I didn't waste any time making up my mind.  It would have been hard to
pass up the opportunity to work with CORE in Leuven, Belgium this summer.


What are you working
on?  What is CORE?

Although I am technically working with imec, I've spent all
my time here working with CORE, a student cooperative that falls in the
sustainability sector.  Specifically, I'm working with a team to track
energy usage at a student apartment complex.  We're installing sensors to
monitor the brightness of the lights, power draw, and heating usage in
every room in the house.  In a typical house, the relationship between
cause (excess energy use) and effect (hefty energy bills and increased CO2
production) is not usually visible.  Perhaps the only time we think about
our energy use is when we get a bill at the end of the month.  

We're trying to make this connection a bit more tangible --
students living in this apartment will have access to the details of their
energy usage on a minute by minute basis. You can turn on a stove burner and
watch as the power draw hits 1500 watts, or whip out your smartphone and turn
off the light you left on back at the house.  I've been working primarily
on the software side of the project, creating a website so students and their
landlords can get a sense of where they can cut back their energy use.  


What has been your
favorite part?

My favorite part of the experience has been the chance to
experience a different culture and get to know a unique group of people.
 As I've mentioned before, the CORE team is a cooperative -- everyone has
a stake in the company's success.  Yet it started out as simply a student
organization.  None of the students have salaries; they've put countless
hours into this project because they see the value in the work their doing, not
because they're counting on a paycheck. It's an incredible atmosphere that
makes working for CORE exciting. 

I've also really appreciated the amount of trust and
responsibility that has been placed in me.  It's always been clear that
I'm working on parts of the project that are important -- I'm not simply making
copies of financial reports or indexing old forms or something. 


What has been the
most challenging?

No single piece of the project is overly difficult.
 However, making sure all the different bits and pieces of the system work
together harmoniously is a different story.  We start with analog
inputs to an arduino - pulses every half kilowatt hour - and end up with
detailed graphs and individualized bills for each student.  There are
quite a few steps in between - each one an opportunity for something to go
wrong. The students currently living in the first prototype of the system have
had to deal with our hardware mishaps and with our buggy code.

In the long run however, the technical challenges cannot
compare to the sociological challenges that projects like this one face.
 Even once we have shown it can be done, we have to convince the community
that the cost is worth the impact.  In addition, we will have to find a
way to scale the project effectively.  I believe it's at that stage
that the CORE team will really be tested.


What is the RVO award about? How do
you feel having received it?

First of all I'd like to thank the RVO society for making this summer
possible for the 6 Oliners that are here in Belgium right now.  Without
the help of their scholarship, spending 10 weeks abroad would have been much
less feasible.  

The RVO Society was founded with the mission of inspiring
youths to pursue careers in science.  In particular, the society is
interested in furthering student projects in the field of sustainability -
so the CORE project is an excellent fit.  Receiving the RVO reward was
another confirmation that the CORE project is headed in the right
direction. Perhaps they also saw the enthusiasm that Olin has given
me for all things related to engineering.  I'm proud to receive
the award and I'm incredibly grateful for the role that the RVO Society and
the CORE team have played in making this summer one to remember.

The award itself is a statue of Prometheus, a scaled down
version of the original present at the town center of Leuven, Belgium.
 They told me only one other like it has been made - and that one is in
the possession of Olin
President Richard Miller
.  I don't know the story of President
Miller's copy, but it's neat to share something in common with an awesome guy
like Rick. 


Madison and Wouter Mulier, the award's designer


What is Belgium like
- how have you all adjusted to life there?
Belgium boasts 3 national languages (Dutch, French, and German), 6 distinct
branches of government, and the capital of the European Union (Brussels).
 It's an incredibly diverse country with a laid back attitude.  

At first, I think we all experienced a bit of culture shock.
 Everything felt unfamiliar: the language, the currency, the food, the
metric system, the weather, the culture. We all made fools of ourselves with
our mangled pronunciations of Dutch words. We slowly grew accustomed to
converting between Celsius and Fahrenheit, kilometers and miles, kilograms and
pounds. We dealt with the weather -- somehow colder and rainier than that of
Needham in the late spring, yet still a humid 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the

Two months in, though, I can't imagine the country being any
other way.  For all its peculiarities, it's beginning to feel like home.
 We've made good friends from Leuven and we've had the chance to connect
with students from other schools on the East Coast who are also in the imec
program.  My best advice would be to experience Belgium first hand if you
ever get the chance. It's impossible to do the place justice with just a few

Posted in: A Broader World View, Olin Employers, Research