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MIT 150

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On January 8, 2011, the MIT Museum opened the new Thomas Peterson ’57 Gallery with a fascinating exhibition highlighting 150 years of the rich history of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The MIT 150 Exhibition, the most expansive exhibition ever developed by the MIT Museum, was a unique exhibition made up of stories and objects that members of the MIT community helped to select, collect and make available to the public, many for the first time. The collaborative process in which nominations were sought, and votes tallied, yielded unexpected insights and ideas that spoke to the founding president’s vision of getting your hands dirty in the pursuit of truth. William Barton Rogers believed that teaching science should be a hands-on proposition. Because of that revolutionary idea, MIT has grown and thrived since 1861.

Deborah Douglas, Curator of Science and Technology at the MIT Museum, organized The MIT 150 Exhibition around themes that reflect the breadth and interdisciplinary nature of MIT’s greatest achievements. Visitors considered the ways in which Boston and Cambridge have served as a living laboratory for MIT; the manners in which numbers (analog and digital) have moved the world to the computer age; as well as methods for improving the workings of the human body. Themes and artifacts also illuminated how the humanities have infused scientific and engineering applications, and explained how MIT’s teaching culture and entrepreneurial spirit have influenced education, industry, and governments throughout the world.

Visitors to The MIT 150 Exhibition found large-scale artifacts – a racecar, a wheelchair, and an outer space control system simulator – as well as simpler objects such as the wooden model of the city of Boston used in the wind tunnel experiments that solved the not-so-simple problem of window panes falling from the John Hancock Tower when it was built in 1976. Visitors also discovered the old and the rare – such as the 19th century notes of Ellen Swallow Richards, MIT’s first female graduate student, instrumental in creating the first water-quality standards in the United States – along with the new – such as a virus-built battery which had just been shown to President Barack Obama. And visitors came upon the controversial – faculty who provoked politicians on both sides of the aisle with their science and their opinions, and those who irritated their own institution by gathering data that proved women were always given smaller labs than men.

The people of MIT and the material culture showcased here are expressive of MIT’s motto, “mens et manus” – “Mind and Hand.” Their stories and the objects that represent them continue to inspire and to educate. In the words of MIT President Susan Hockfield, “the people of MIT continue to embody the restless searching spirit – the spirit of inventional wisdom – and during this anniversary year we will highlight some of MIT’s most revolutionary results, and ponder the path to the future.”

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