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     BY: This Image Appears Courtesy of the MIT Museum
MIT Museum

Boston’s Other Science Museum, Cambridge, MA

By Peter F. Demers | January 20, 2012

In addition to being one of the world’s finest and most respected educational institutions, MIT has a first rate museum that focuses on science and technology.

Founded in 1971 as the MIT Historical Collections, it was initially planned as a way to gather in one place all the historical artifacts scattered throughout the MIT community.

Renamed the MIT Museum in 1980, it began to develop exhibits and educational programs based on the Museum’s MIT focused collections.   The Museum considerably expanded its space in 2007 adding 5,000 square feet.

In a metropolitan area dominated by first rate educational institutions and outstanding museums like the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Science, it’s tough to get attention.   But based upon the uniqueness of its collection, it was able to attract over 100,000 visitors over the past year, of which approximately thirty percent are foreign visitors.   Most of the exhibits on display exemplify work done by MIT students, faculty or MIT alumni.

One of the exhibits that the Museum just closed was an exhibit that celebrated MIT’s 150th anniversary. In the collection were artifacts and information that chronicled MIT’s faculty and alumni’s contribution to many of the scientific and technological advances that are a part of our everyday lives.

For example, on exhibit were examples of SAE Formula racecars that have been built and raced by students – a stark contrast to the traditional view that MIT students are bookish “nerds.”

Another display was an exhibit of the Daedulus 87 project by forty MIT students, faculty and alumni that in 1988 set the world record for human powered flight. While the 150 exhibits in the collection are no longer housed in a single collection, most are still available for viewing throughout the Museum.

One of the really eye opening realizations of visiting the museum is the impact that science and scientific discovery have on our everyday lives. The MIT regular collection includes one of the country’s most extensive collections on architecture and design.

The Hart Nautical collection is a comprehensive archive of nautical technology, and the General and Science and Technology collection is comprised of visual and written material as well as artifacts that record the social and cultural history of MIT from its founding to the present day.

The MIT Museum is worth a visit, if for no other reason than to view the Holography exhibit - a darkened room containing three dimensional representations of actual people. It’s positively eerie. As you walk by, you get a real sense that you are looking at the head of a real person.

In April 2012, the Museum will launch two new exhibits. The first, Rivers of Ice, is a study of the role of glaciers in the earth’s ecology and the effects that climate change is having on the earth’s weather and populations.

The other is a photographic exhibit of the late Bernice Abbott entitled “Essential Unity.” Abbott is best known for her black and white photographs of New York City .   She sought to create a broadly inclusive collection of photographs, that together suggest a vital interaction between three aspects of urban life: the diverse people of the city; the places they live, work and play; and their daily activities.

Like most museums, the MIT Museum offers regular programs ranging from lectures and panel discussions to performances and forums.

A unique activity at the museum is the Soap Box which is a series of salon-style, early evening conversations with scientists and engineers who are making the news that really matters. Soap Box is a public forum for debate about important ideas and issues in science and technology.

Every spring, the Cambridge Science Festival, sponsored by the museum, is an open air festival featuring hundreds of events, performances, talks, lectures and demonstrations for all ages.

While you’re there, ask about the annual piano drop which started as a student experiment and has become an annual ritual for graduating seniors.

It’s worth a look at the museum’s website http://web.mit.edu/museum/ to obtain up-to-the-minute details of the latest offerings on display.

All images appear courtesy of the MIT Museum.


MIT Museum

Building N51, 265 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139

(617) 253-5927


Opening Hours:

Daily: 10AM – 5PM. Closed on major holidays.

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