MIT Museum

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MIT Museum
MIT Museum, Cambridge MA.jpg
Established 1971
Location Cambridge, Massachusetts
Coordinates 42°21′46″N 71°05′57″W / 42.362778°N 71.099167°W / 42.362778; -71.099167
Public transit access MBTA Central Square Handicapped/disabled access

The MIT Museum, founded in 1971, is located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It hosts collections of holography, technology-related artworks, artificial intelligence, robotics, maritime history, and the history of MIT. Its holography collection of 1800 pieces is the largest in the world, though not all of it is exhibited. As of 2013, works of high-speed photographer Harold Edgerton and kinetic artist Arthur Ganson are the two largest long-running displays. There is a regular program of temporary special exhibitions, often on the intersections of art and technology.


The Museum was founded in 1971 by Warren Seamans, and was initially called the "MIT Historical Collections". Its purpose was to collect and preserve historical artifacts and documents scattered throughout MIT. It was renamed the "MIT Museum" in 1980, and began developing exhibits and educational programs for the MIT community as well as society at large.

Since 2005 the official mission of the MIT Museum has been, "to engage the wider community with MIT’s science, technology and other areas of scholarship in ways that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century."1

The Museum is directed by MIT Professor John Durant, and operates under MIT's Associate Provost for the Arts, who also oversees the List Visual Arts Center and the MIT Office of the Arts.

The Museum was accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1984 and reaccredited in 2002. The MIT Museum also belongs to the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC), Museum Computer Network, New England Museum Association, International Confederation of Architectural Museums, and the International Council of Maritime Museums.


The Mark Epstein Innovation Gallery occupies 5,000 square feet (460 m2) on the ground floor, and showcases recent research at MIT. After dark during the winter season, large holograms from the Museum's collection are displayed through windows fronting on Massachusetts Avenue.

Other exhibits include selections from a large collection of slide rules and nomographs, and research archives and camera prototypes from Edwin H. Land and the Polaroid Corporation.

The Kurtz Gallery for Photography on the second floor displays temporary shows of photography related to art, science, and technology, including works connected to MIT and people who have worked or studied there. For example, a photo exhibit of Berenice Abbott's work was on display through 2012,2 highlighting her scientific visualization work which captured elementary physics principles for science education, including the picture Bouncing ball in diminishing arcs. Many of these photos were incorporated into a landmark high school physics textbook developed by the Physical Science Study Committee, which was headquartered at MIT.

MIT 150

In January 2011, the Museum reopened its upper galleries, including the Thomas Peterson '57 Gallery, after an extensive renovation. The first exhibit in the renovated space was The MIT 150 Exhibition in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of MIT's founding charter on April 10, 1861. The special exhibit consisted of 150 objects, documents, and other artifacts showing the history of people, places, and ideas related to MIT. A website was set up in tandem,3 including supplemental information and an online timeline. Video interviews specially created for the exhibition were available for viewing onsite and online. As of 2013, a few exhibits selected from The MIT 150 Exhibition remain on view in the Museum, though most of the space has been reassigned to newer temporary exhibitions.

Hacker relics and Building 20 memorial

For a number of years, the Museum housed a "Hall of Hacks" showcasing some of the famous MIT student pranks, but the section was closed in 2001.4 This was done to free up gallery space for other exhibits; the artifacts and documentation have been retained for future historical research and exhibition.

A few selected larger relics of past hacks are now on semi-permanent display inside the MIT Stata Center, including a "fire hose" drinking fountain, and full-size replicas of a cow and a police car which had been placed atop the Great Dome (but not at the same time); see the MIT hacks article for details. In the ground floor elevator lobby of the Dreyfoos Tower are located a large time capsule box plus informational panels describing MIT's historic Building 20, which was sited where the Stata Center is now.

Holography collection

In 1993, the MIT Museum acquired the complete collection and archives of the Museum of Holography (MOH), formerly on Mercer Street in the SoHo district of Manhattan. The MOH had been dissolved the previous year, and the collection was to be dispersed at auction. At that time an anonymous buyer bought the entire collection, and donated it to the MIT Museum, which continues to preserve, expand, and display it for researchers and the general public.

Today, the collection is the largest and most comprehensive collection of holograms in the world, containing many specimens of historic, scientific, and artistic value. Only a small fraction of the collection is viewable by the public at any given time, due to space and funding constraints. The MIT Museum continues to host international symposia on holography every few years. The contents of the collection may be searched via an online accessible database.5

Kinetic art

One of the most popular permanent galleries features approximately a dozen works of kinetic art by Arthur Ganson. In November 2013, the Museum opened 5000 Moving Parts, a year-long exhibition of kinetic art, featuring the work of Ganson, Anne Lilly, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, John Douglas Powers, and Takis. The exhibition inaugurates a "year of kinetic art" at the Museum, featuring special programming related to the artform.67


Friday After Thanksgiving (FAT) competition

The Museum runs the annual "Friday After Thanksgiving" (FAT) competition, which usually has been emceed by kinetic artist Arthur Ganson, sometimes accompanied by fellow artist Jeff Lieberman. Teams of contestants construct elaborate Rube Goldberg style chain-reaction machines on tables arranged around a large gymnasium. Each apparatus is linked by a string to its predecessor and successor machine. The initial string is ceremonially pulled, and the ensuing events are videotaped in closeup, and simultaneously projected on large screens for viewing by the live audience. After the entire cascade of events has finished, prizes are then awarded in various categories and age levels. Videos from several previous years' contests are viewable on the MIT Museum website.89

Cambridge Science Festival

In 2007, John Durant (then the newly-appointed Director of the MIT Museum) initiated the annual Cambridge Science Festival. This was the first event of its type in the United States, and has since inspired similar events in other cities, coordinated via the Science Festival Alliance.10 Durant had been inspired by a similar festival in England, where he had worked previously. MIT, Harvard University, the City of Cambridge, and the Museum of Science, Boston were the founding sponsors of the event, and continue in their support today.

All Festival events are open to the general public, and are intended for ages ranging from pre-school up through senior citizens. The great majority of events are free, but some limited performances and workshops require a fee. Information and program schedules are available online, and free printed program booklets are distributed throughout the city before each Festival. The Festival is usually scheduled for around 10 days near the end of April.11

See also


  1. ^ "MIT Museum: Mission and History". MIT. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  2. ^ "MIT Museum: Exhibitions - Berenice Abbott: Photography and Science: An Essential Unity". Retrieved 2012-08-05. 
  3. ^ "MIT 150 Exhibition". MIT Museum. Retrieved 2011-04-22. 
  4. ^ "Museum’s Hall of Hacks Concludes Ten-Year Run". The Tech. The Tech staff. Retrieved 2011-04-22. 
  5. ^ "Holography Collection". MIT Museum. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 10 May 2013. 
  6. ^ "5000 Moving Parts". MIT Museum. MIT Museum. Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  7. ^ McQuaid, Cate (December 2, 2013). "Mechanical, moving at same time at MIT Museum". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2013-12-03. 
  8. ^ "Friday After Thanksgiving: Chain Reaction". MIT Museum [website]. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-06. 
  9. ^ Ganson, Arthur (Nov–Dec 2009). "Falling, Unwinding, Cascading: MIT's post-Thanksgiving chain reaction". Technology Review. 
  10. ^ "(Homepage)". Science Festival Alliance. Science Festival Alliance. Retrieved 10 May 2013. 
  11. ^ "(Homepage)". Cambridge Science Festival. Cambridge Science Festival. Retrieved 10 May 2013. 

External links

Coordinates: 42°21′46″N 71°5′57″W / 42.36278°N 71.09917°W / 42.36278; -71.09917

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