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MIT blows out 10010110 birthday candles

Sesquicentennially yours
By SHAULA CLARK  |  January 12, 2011


When a whole sector of the MIT Museum goes under wraps for months, it's a surefire sign that mad science is brewing. This past weekend, the museum finally pulled back the curtain on "The MIT 150 Exhibition," a new 150-artifact showcase celebrating the school's 150th anniversary. What wonders does the collection hold? An official Smoot ruler. A brain slice from world-famous amnesia patient H.M. A prototype for the so-called "Boston arm," the world's first cybernetic limb. Should you drop by 265 Mass Ave for the museum's free "150 and Beyond" event on January 14 — which promises opportunities to get acquainted with the Copenhagen Wheel "e-bike," partake in a slide-rule petting zoo, and "explore synthetic skin" — here are a few choice relics awaiting you:

MIT vets and connoisseurs of the 'tute's OpenCourseWare lectures (read more on that here) may well recognize this battle-scarred beaut from the physics lectures of Professor Walter Lewin. In his energetic attempts to drive the principles of Newtonian mathematics into your thinkmeats, Lewin has employed rifles, elephant femurs, and fire-extinguisher-powered bicycles — but perhaps none of these props is as iconic as his pendulum ball, which Lewin has been known to ride across the lecture hall, Dr. Strangelove–style.


Sure, WWII was a nasty bit of business . . . but it did give us one neato computer. Whipped up by MIT at the behest of the US Navy (who wanted a flight simulator to train bomber crews) and officially unveiled in 1951, this room-filling beast — boasting more than 12,500 vacuum tubes — was the first computer to display real-time video.


An annual rite of spring since 1972, the Baker House piano drop — in which mischief-crazed undergrads heave a piano off the roof of a six-story dorm — is one of the most infamous antics ever hatched by the Institute for Hacks, Tom Foolery, and Pranks. In the words of one participant, it's "a combination of dorm spirit, harmless destructiveness, and the willingness to do something difficult just for the sake of doing it." This forlorn puddle of splintered wood and keys is what was salvaged from the 2010 drop.

For more exhibit info, visit //

Related: Slideshow: ''Stan VanDerBeek: The Culture Intercom'' at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, The proto-web utopian consciousness of Stan VanDerBeek, Love and Robots in Death and the Powers: The Robots' Opera, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, MIT Museum
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