Going through a pandemic senior year with curiosity and community | MIT News

Miles Johnson received degrees in mathematics, electrical engineering and computer science last June, as well as a minor in physics. But if he could add another concentration to his degree, then Johnson would add pandemic survival, which he brilliantly achieved through strong friendships made during his time at MIT.

While in high school at the University of San Francisco, Johnson relied on a support network of teachers, program leaders and friends who made it easy for him to surpass himself. Later, as an intern at the NASA Ames Research Center, he greatly outdid himself. Among other achievements, he created a functional model in Architecture Analysis and Design Language for the management of aircraft in national airspace, acquired Java skills to develop an autonomous operation of the game “Flappy Bird” and to build graphics of set of Mandelbrot, and used Python to program a simulation of a Stirling engine.

Moving to MIT as an undergraduate student, he longed for an experience that blended technical and social exploration. He was not disappointed, finding it easy to make friends at the Institute. He moved into the Burton-Conner dormitory, where he joined the Burton Third Bombers, serving as floor treasurer and weight room president, and playing in his dodgeball and flag football teams.

“I didn’t join an exclusive clique of a few friends. I joined a group of 50 interesting and exciting people who could make friends and have a good time wherever they went, ”says Johnson. “Whenever I was exhausted from work, I would walk out of my room and inevitably find a few people basking about Burton Third to talk to. Before my forties, there was hardly ever a week that I did. had no social event to look forward to. It was a big part of my life and we stayed very united and active, even virtually. Honestly, I have no idea what my experience at MIT would have been like without such a strong community behind me.

Johnson was also active as a sprinter on the track and field before injuring his knee, but that didn’t stop him from participating in the Latin Dance Troupe or rock climbing at Brooklyn Boulders. For the Design / Build / Fly club, he developed planes for the IAEA Design / Build / Flight competition, using foam wings using laser cutters, circular saws and Solid works CAD software.

Miles also played tenor saxophone with a jazz combo and with Love and a sandwich, a soul fusion group that is part of MIT Live music connection.

“I was going to play jazz at the end of every stressful Monday and jam with friends on Saturdays. It was always nice to take a cathartic break from schoolwork to shout out a saxophone solo.

He taught undergraduates Mathematics Learning Center, noted problem sets for course 6.046 (Algorithm Design and Analysis), and helped adults earn high school credits at Just-A-Start Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The summer internships included obtaining Secret Level Clearance as a Systems Intern at Northrop Grumman in 2018, where he researched collision predictions and developed analytical functions in MATLAB to predict trajectories. satellite orbitals.

As part of 2019 SPUR + Summer Research Program offered by the Department of Mathematics, he wrote an article titled “Some graphic realizations of two-row Specht moduli of Iwahori-Hecke algebras of the symmetric group», With Natalie Stewart and supervised by graduate student in mathematics Oron Propp, in a project suggested by the professor Roman Bezroukavnikov.

“It was my first time doing research in pure mathematics,” he says. “Our project was to prove an isomorphism between a fairly abstract group representation and a graphical representation, in other words to prove that two mathematical objects, one easy to work with and the other difficult, are mathematically equivalent. We ended up only proving part of the desired outcome, and then found an article that completely proved it, but I still found the experience quite valuable, and it definitely gave me a taste. research in mathematics.

His first Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) project was to implement an algorithm on a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) computer with the Condensed Matter Theory Group, to see if it could compete with the advanced optical networks and quantum computers. The group’s conclusions, Recurrent heuristic algorithms for photonic Ising machines,»Were published in Natural communications.

During the pandemic, his other UROP was inspired by 18.102 (Introduction to functional analysis), taught by his educational advisor, the teacher Richard melrose. Johnson’s goal was to prove the Atiyah-Singer theorem for Dirac operators using the AP Calderón formula. “It was, admittedly, a little advanced for me, but I am happy to have been introduced to differential geometry, a subject on which I would not otherwise have had the chance to take lessons.”

But what kept him sane during the pandemic was his support system. He worked remotely from his home in San Francisco, where he credits his mothers and dog Holiday for improving his mental state. He took social walks with close friends and spent a month in Vermont with other bombers, before moving into an apartment in Cambridge last fall, including with his roommate’s dog, Raisin.

“While I was living in this apartment, I always had a group of about 10 friends to hang out with on a regular basis, and it was really nice to have access to regular testing and to worry a little less about infect my parents. About the only time I left my apartment was to go to the climbing gym, so rock climbing became a fairly central part of my pandemic experience. “

For its final project in 6.111 (Digital Systems Laboratory), Johnson built an FPGA-controlled interactive sound LED display that flashed in time with music stored on an SD card, and graphically produced the frequency spectrum of music on stacked LED strips.

At MIT awards ceremony, he received the Ronald E. McNair scholarship, created in McNair’s honor by MIT Black Alumni / ae, to recognize a black undergraduate student who has demonstrated strong academic performance and has made a significant contribution to the minority community.

“At MIT, I was definitely challenged, but not exactly as I thought,” he recalls. “For me most of the difficulties came from everyone around me pushing hard, so I kept adding more stuff until I was pushing as hard as I could. I will never forget the many long nights working on an absurdly hard pset [problem set] with my classmates, drinking an energy drink for the first time at 4 a.m., or ordering Dominoes at the Math Lounge. Even when I psect alone, class group discussions were ripe with people willing to work with me when I was stuck. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is how to approach new and unfamiliar tasks methodically and how to persevere when things don’t go perfectly.

Johnson says MIT has fully prepared him for his next step, the doctoral program in Applied Physics at Caltech, where he will study quantum mechanics. But he plans to continue to rely on his MIT support system.

“I have met a wide variety of other undergraduates entering various fields of research and industry, and whose knowledge I may need to tap into when I encounter difficult problems in the future.” , he said. “My time here has left me with a vast network of people that I may be able to draw inspiration from in the future, not to mention all the old class documents I have on my computer to reference when my memory serves. fades. I am excited for the trip!

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