Museum starts MIT 150 celebration

Over sixty events, symposia to reflect “inventional wisdom”

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President Susan J. Hockfield spoke Friday about the uniqueness of the MIT community and thanked the MIT 150 steering committee for their work in putting together the MIT 150 exhibit. The exhibit floor at the MIT Museum was packed with students, alumni, and faculty. There were 657 people in the exhibit by the end of the speeches.
Joanna Kao—The Tech
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John R. Durant, Director of the MIT Museum and Historical Collections, spoke Friday at the press opening of the MIT 150 exhibit, giving perspective on the process of creating the exhibit. He spoke of a museum worker who had to bring back a slice of H.M.’s brain, one of the most studied brains in the world, from California and joked with the audience, asking them to imagine going through airport security with a slice of a brain.
Joanna Kao—The Tech

What can MIT accomplish in the next 150 years? A cure for cancer? Further explorations underwater and in space? Artificial intelligence?

The opening of the MIT 150 Exhibition at the MIT Museum on Friday marked the first of 150 days of celebratory events for the Institute’s sesquicentennial. The celebration will include symposia, performances, and exhibits reflecting on MIT’s revolutionary contributions and will explore how MIT can help shape the future.

The MIT 150 steering committee, led by David A. Mindell PhD ’96, planned over sixty events guided by the theme of “inventional wisdom.” The theme represents the entrepreneurial spirit sparked by a blend of inspiration and knowledge, explained Mindell. Many of the festivities are open to the public, fulfilling one of the goals of the celebration­­­ ­­— to educate and inspire the world about science and technology.

According to Mindell, the steering committee also emphasized the ideas of research and education.

A series of six symposia developed by teams of MIT faculty will explore interdisciplinary issues and topics accessible to a world audience. The purpose of the symposia is to bring intellectual leaders from MIT and beyond together to examine global issues through panel discussions.

The series of symposia begins Jan. 27 with “Economics and Finance: From Theory to Practice to Policy.” According to the MIT 150 website, topics that will be covered during the spring semester include integrative cancer research, women’s leadership in science and engineering, the age of computation, exploration of earth, air, ocean, and space, and brains, minds, and machines.

The “emotional center,” said Mindell, of the 150 days will be on April 10, when over 10,000 people will gather at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to celebrate MIT’s Charter Day. According to Mindell, this convocation will celebrate the highest level of achievement — MIT’s moral and intellectual accomplishments. This New Century Convocation will recall the 1949 Mid-Century Convocation and is a formal academic event. Guest speakers will underscore MIT’s role in inspiring the community to take on the challenges of the future.

“The best tribute we can make to MIT is to continue progress in the future,” Mindell said.

Mindell expects the 150th anniversary events to leave attendees with a renewed desire to surmount obstacles regarding human well-being as well as a rekindle the optimism of discovery and promise in this generation’s forward-thinking activists.

“I hope people gain an appreciation for MIT, both in its history and the breadth of its achievements, and understand what is special and unique about MIT,” Mindell said. “I hope people will look back on this period and see that MIT has redefined itself.”

“In a time of economic uncertainty, we must help the community find a vision for the 21st century,” he added.

The vision is contained within the MIT 150 Exhibition, the “most expansive exhibition ever developed by the MIT Museum,” according to the Museum’s website.

Exhibit curator Deborah Douglas collaborated with the MIT community through a nomination and voting process to arrive at the 150 objects currently on display. Douglas said that each object tells a story that is meant to inspire and educate.

At the exhibit’s opening on Friday, President Susan J. Hockfield said that the objects as a whole describe the character of MIT.

The exhibit has “many objects that are brilliantly bold, and others that are perfectly ridiculous,” Hockfield said.

In the words of MIT Museum Director John R. Durant, “MIT is an idea factory, which is also a place that keeps reinventing the future. You can see 150 years of reinvented futures in this exhibition, including futures which are still to come.”

Other major MIT 150 events include the Open House, the MIT Global Challenge, and the Infinite History Project. See for complete event details and registration for symposia.

The celebration concludes with Tech Day on June 5 and reunions after Commencement.