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MIT Better World

By Kathryn M. O’Neill

Relocated to a central spot in bustling Kendall Square, the new museum will feature 57,000 square feet of galleries, classrooms, a dynamic public makerspace, and a soaring two-story seating area where people can meet and discuss ideas.

The MIT Museum’s collection encompasses more than a million objects, prints, rare books, drawings, photographs, films, and holograms that reflect the wide interests of the MIT community from the Institute’s founding in 1861 to today. A new gallery, MIT Collects, will highlight many pieces that have never been exhibited before within installations ranging from Modeling Everything to Totally Useless Things, a collection focused on toys, puzzles, play, and the role of creativity in scientific research.

The museum, made possible partly through the generosity of MIT’s donors, will also feature an exhibition called Essential MIT. Centered on the process of inquiry and discovery, this exhibition will spotlight ongoing research projects.

John Durant, the Mark R. Epstein (Class of 1963) Director of the MIT Museum, says museum staff are excited to welcome back visitors. “We are really keen to be a meeting ground between the academic community and the wider community, especially around issues that need a full discussion in public,” he says. “So please come join the conversation. That’s what we’re about.”

MIT Black History Project: These cassette tapes exhibited at the museum holds some of the more than 200 interviews conducted by Adjunct Professor Emeritus Clarence G. Williams in the 1990s for his book Technology and the Dream: Reflections on the Black Experience at MIT, 1941–1999. It is the largest collection of interviews of Black STEM professionals in the world. Williams, who was also special assistant to the president and ombudsman, founded the MIT Black History Project, an ongoing research effort. Photo: Courtesy of MIT Museum.
Transfer RNA Model: The new museum features an 80-foot wall of models, including this one of transfer RNA based on the pioneering research of MIT biology professor Alexander Rich. Elizabeth Cavicchi ’78, SM ’80, now an instructor at MIT, built this model for Rich in 1975 as part of an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Image: MIT Museum
David A. Huffman Collection: This white vinyl model illustrates some of the folding techniques explored by David A. Huffman ScD ’53, a pioneer of computational folding who was an MIT faculty member for 14 years. The MIT Museum’s collection includes more than 100 models by Huffman, whose work helped advance lossless compression, a technique used in digital photography. Image: MIT Museum
Whirlwind Computer: This 4K core memory unit is one of several objects on display at the MIT Museum related to the Whirlwind computer. Developed at MIT between 1945 and 1952, Whirlwind was the first digital computer able to operate in real time and one of the first large- scale high-speed computers ever built. The project, which began as World War II effort to develop a flight simulator, was directed by Jay W. Forrester SM ’45, who was a professor at MIT Sloan. Image: MIT Museum
LIGO Prototype: Featured in the Essential MIT exhibition in the new museum is the pioneering prototype that Professor Emeritus Rainer Weiss SB ’55, PhD ’62 and his students developed for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). MIT played a key role in establishing LIGO, a large-scale national facility designed to open the field of gravitational-wave astrophysics through the direct detection of gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Image: MIT Museum
Bounce Program: In partnership with the Computer History Museum in Mountainview, California, the MIT Museum has been working to create an emulator of the historic Whirlwind computer. The effort began with a simple 30-line program that generated a bouncing ball effect on an oscilloscope, the only complete program that the museum team knew worked. The team even reverse-engineered a punched paper tape to run the program, which they titled “Bounce.” Image: MIT Museum

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