At the recent talk on graduate school applications, Dr. Asad Abidi made two points that I would like to reiterate. The first of these was regarding senior year projects. Don't make gadgets and toys, he said. Everyone out there is making them. You have to stand out and make something that really demonstrates your skills. (My memory is pretty shaky and he might not have used these words, but the general gist is correct).
The second point was his parting message. Pakistan's problems are not going to be fixed by the current generation. They will have to be fixed the new one - us. The future is yours.
Not wonderfully new, I admit. There is something to the connection between it and the first point that I was hoping he would make, but he did not.
See, a lot of the problems this country faces can be fixed by lazy, incompetent and corrupt politicians being replaced by hardworking, competent and honest ones. Yet, some of those problems can also be solved in different ways. Let me illustrate.
One of the biggest problems this country faces is electricity generation. We need our politicians to approve new dams, set up those new power plants etc etc. They are not going to do it fast enough, if at all. The demand keeps growing and the supply keeps falling behind.
Hassan Bukhari's solution to the above problem is the following. Make a concentrated solar power unit for individual homes that generates enough power to substantially cut down the from-grid electricity consumption. For those of you who don't know, a concentrated solar power unit uses mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a single point, the point heats up, and then you can use that heat to generate electricity or heat water or run an air chiller. These are pretty neat machines and currently have efficiencies much better than photovoltaic (solar cells) based electricity generation. The problem is that the units developed so far (and development is underway all across the world) are so expensive that the electricity savings don't recover costs quickly enough or in the lifetime of the unit.
Hence, the specific technological challenge that two teams from the batch of 2012 are trying to solve during their senior year project is making concentrated solar power units that are cheap, made from locally available material, and highly efficient.
Which is a sort of problem I believe a lot of us should be doing. The whole country is infested with technological challenges in every domain that can be solved by a group of senior year students working for an year. Don't make toys and gadgets. Solve the country's problems by being smart and coming up with solutions that don't require government officers getting off their lazy backs.
To help along with this, Hassan and I had the idea of creating a forum where people from our batch can discuss their senior year projects. Consequently we created http://sproj2012.tk/. It's a bit late granted, and a lot of people have settled on their ideas, but things haven't been formalized as yet and we hope that this forum will allow everyone to come up with the right sort of ideas for their senior year projects.