For years, students and faculty have raced to solve single-variable calculus problems in an MIT tradition known as the Integration Bee. In 2007, only 12 contestants made it to the finals of the four-round seeded tournament, which organizers say is the world’s most prestigious integration bee. And for four out of the past six years, the title of Grand Integrator has gone to Sriram Krishnan, SM ‘01, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering.
The secret to Krishnan’s success? “I was introduced to calculus in high school, but being in mechanical engineering, you don’t go too far away from it–you write and solve equations all along,” he says. “I wish I could say it’s a talent from childhood, but unfortunately I can’t.”
Krishnan earned his bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology and then a master’s degree from MIT. This spring he was set to complete his PhD, focusing on a mechanical method of manufacturing thin polymer films. Krishnan likens his work to that of a tortilla maker: the challenge is to pick up the tortilla. Thinner than plastic wrap and much more fragile, thin polymer films are useless if they break. Krishnan has been seeking a way to improve unreliable manual methods of producing them.
MIT has been a very supportive environment, he says: “It encourages creativity and enterprise. My peers are the best influence on all topics–it adds up to making everyone a bit better than what they were before.”
Krishnan has contributed a great deal to MIT’s supportive environment himself. In fact, MIT has awarded him its two highest student honors, the Karl Taylor Compton Prize for excellence in citizenship and the William J. Stewart Junior Award for his work in graduate advising. “I have worked hard to make sure that people who contribute are recognized,” he says, “so it’s nice to be recognized in my turn.”
As president and a trustee of his dorm, Sidney-Pacific, Krishnan has focused on building community. He developed programs including faculty-student dinners, large social events, and an effective orientation program for new residents. In an effort to address the challenges of students coming from more than 50 different countries, Krishnan arranged for informal mediation training to help hall leaders resolve differences. After graduation he’ll join a new community, as a consultant for McKinsey.