Museum kicks off MIT 150 celebration

Exhibit starts Friday; 150th birthday to be honored through spring

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Members of the Media Lab CityCar project lift a scale prototype of their electric vehicle onto a display at the MIT Museum. The museum is featuring a year-long exhibit for MIT’s 150th anniversary, highlighting 150 objects from the Institute’s history.
Sam Range—The Tech
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The wreckage of the 2010 Baker House Piano Drop is displayed at the MIT Museum as a part of the MIT 150 exhibit.
Sam Range—The Tech
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Deborah Douglas, curator of Science and Technology at the MIT Museum, places a model biplane atop the force balance from MIT’s first wind tunnel.
Sam Range—The Tech
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The “Minsky Arm,” developed by MIT AI Laboratory co-founder Marvin Minsky, rests in a display case at the MIT 150 exhibit at the MIT Museum.
SAM Range—The Tech
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A glass of Intel’s first commercially available chip, the Intel 4004, sits on display at the MIT Museum. Intel was co-founded by Robert Noyce, MIT PhD and inventor of the integrated circuit.
Sam Range—The Tech
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A scale model of the MIT Media Lab’s CityCar is displayed at the MIT 150 exhibit at the MIT Museum.
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Are you at the museum right now?
SAM RANGE — the tech

A pulverized piano. The MIT CityCar. The original Bose prototype speaker. These items, and 147 others, will be presented to the world in the MIT 150 Exhibition at the MIT Museum. The exhibit, which aims to chronicle 150 years of Institute history through 150 objects, opens this Saturday to kick off a semester-long celebration of MIT’s 150th birthday.

The 150 Exhibition, designed through the “collective intelligence” of the MIT community, is the first of its kind for the MIT Museum, according to exhibit curator Deborah G. Douglas. “The best part of this exhibition is that we really did succeed in engaging a sizeable part of the MIT community,” said Douglas.

In the 150 Exhibition’s case, the MIT Museum received more than 700 nominations from students, faculty, alumni, and staff for items to be featured in the exhibit. A round of community voting was held to help determine which 150 objects would make the final cut.

“It was a collaborative process,” said Douglas, noting that some popular objects were too large or otherwise difficult to feature in the Exhibition, but that the Museum paid close attention to the voting results. The Museum had a “need to balance institutional resources, what’s available, the size of the freight elevator,” among other factors, she said.

In an advance preview of the 150 Exhibition given to The Tech, many of the objects which received the most votes were prominently featured. The “Baker House Piano Drop,” which received more votes than any other object, was immortalized in a reconstructed display using the pieces of last year’s piano. Glass Lab artwork, the third most popular item, was displayed near the entrance to the exhibit. A large photograph of Oliver R. Smoot ’62 lying on the Harvard Bridge hung on one of the Museum’s walls — number six on the voters’ list.

The 150 Exhibition’s objects are organized around ten themes. Categories like Bionic MIT, Pioneering MIT, and Analog/Digital MIT will help guide visitors through the sprawling exhibit on the Museum’s second floor, according to Douglas.

Broadcasting MIT, for instance, showcases ways in which MIT has impacted modern communications, and features the OpenCourseWare project. Bionic MIT references Institute advancements relating to the human body. Glass Lab sculptures fall under Artistic MIT, along with the original scale model of Alexander Calder’s The Great Sail, which was tested in the MIT Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel to ensure the sculpture could endure wind forces.

Many of the artifacts seek to “reflect the breadth and interdisciplinary nature of MIT’s greatest achievements,” according to the Exhibition’s website. Objects like an original Apollo guidance, navigation, and control system simulator and a prototype model of the CityCar, an electric automobile designed for urban environments, were some of the objects selected to meet this end. A slice of epilepsy patient H.M.’s brain, which crucially linked the hippocampus to processes of memory formation, will also be displayed.

But some objects may have special meaning only to the MIT community. “One of the things we had to think about was, ‘How do you communicate IHTFP?’” said Douglas, referencing the voters’ fifth most popular selection. IHTFP is represented in the Exhibition with a pennant emblazoned with “TECH is HELL” hanging above a display containing the original cast of 2011’s Brass Rat — while an overhead speaker plays the Chorollaries’ rendition of the MIT fight song.

Ultimately, Douglas hopes that the 150 Exhibition will “showcase our stories and the people behind them.” The Exhibition will host a reception and opening for faculty, staff and students this Friday, January 7 from 3–5 p.m. It will open to the public the following day, Saturday, January 8. The exhibition will close on December 31 of this year.