Massachusetts Institute of Technology

From Academic Kids

Template:Redirect Template:Infobox University2 The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, is a research institution and university located in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts directly across the Charles River from Boston's Back Bay district.

MIT is a world leader in science and technology, as well as in many other fields, including management, economics, linguistics, political science, and philosophy. Among its most famous departments and schools are the Lincoln Laboratory, the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Media Lab, the Whitehead Institute and the Sloan School of Management. Fifty-nine current or former members of the MIT community have won the Nobel Prize.



In 1861, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts approved a charter for the incorporation of the "Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston Society of Natural History," submitted by William Barton Rogers, a distinguished natural scientist. This was an important first step toward establishing what Rogers hoped would become a new kind of independent educational institution relevant to an increasingly industrialized America. With the charter approved, Rogers began raising funds, developing a curriculum and appraising suitable real estate. His efforts were hampered by the Civil War, and as a result its first classes were held in rented space at the Mercantile Building in downtown Boston in 1865. Construction on the first MIT building was completed in Boston's Back Bay in 1866. In the following years, it established a sterling reputation in the sciences and in engineering, but it also fell on hard financial times. These two factors made it a perfect fit in many peoples' eyes to merge with nearby Harvard University, which was flush with cash but much weaker in the sciences than it was in the liberal arts. Around 1900, a merger ( was proposed with Harvard University, but was cancelled after protests from MIT's alumni. In 1916, MIT moved across the river to its present location in Cambridge.

MIT's prominence increased as a result of World War II (see radar) and the United States government's investment in science and technology in response to Sputnik. MIT's contributions to twentieth century science and technology include the Whirlwind computer, which introduced magnetic core memory; the Lisp programming language; the Multics operating system; the X Window System; and many cultural contributions to the development of personal computing.

MIT's Great Dome, as viewed from across the Charles River.
MIT's Great Dome, as viewed from across the Charles River.

In 2001, MIT announced that it planned to put course materials online as part of its OpenCourseWare project. The same year, president Charles Vest made history by being the first university official in the world to admit that his institution had severely restricted the career of women faculty members and researchers through sexist discrimination, and to make steps to redress the issue. In August 2004, Susan Hockfield, a molecular neurobiologist, was appointed as MIT's first female president. She took office as the Institute's 16th president on December 6, 2004.

Admission to MIT is extremely competitive, and it has been ranked by The Atlantic Monthly and other publications as the most selective university in the United States. It also consistently ranks among the highest in nationwide reports on quality of faculty and effectiveness of teaching. An illustrative 1997 report ( showed that the aggregated revenues produced by companies founded by MIT and its graduates would make it the twenty-fourth largest economy in the world.

Well-known MIT faculty (current and former) and alumni include linguist Noam Chomsky, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former CIA director John M. Deutch, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee (the World Wide Web Consortium is now based at MIT), former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Nobel laureate John Nash.

Undergraduate academics

There is a large amount of pressure in the classes, which have been characterized as "drinking from a fire hose" or "academic boot camp." Although the perceived pressure is high, the failure rate both from classes and the Institute as a whole, is low. The school's emphasis on technical excellence and information sharing results in a situation where faculty, upperclassmen, and fellow students are remarkably helpful even to newly arrived freshmen. This culture of helpfulness offsets the academic stress to a certain degree. Furthermore, students are not assigned letter grades in their first semester; instead, they are graded Pass/No Record. To allow the students to gradually adjust to regular grading, second semester is ABC/No Record. For both semesters, classes that a student fails are noted on the internal transcript but erased from all external records.

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A plaque of George Eastman, founder of Kodak, whose nose displays a high polish from generations of MIT students who would rub it for good luck on the way to exams. "A man calling himself Mr. Smith had donated several millions to build that building, and 'Smith' he had remained until his death permitted a bronze plaque commemorating George Eastman to be placed in one of the hallways."—Maxwell Griffith, The Gadget Maker

Majors are numbered; for example, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is Course VI, while Mathematics is Course XVIII. Students will typically refer to their major by the course number, saying "he's Course Eighteen" rather than "he's a math major." Subjects within each course also have numeric identifications, which most students use more frequently than the written names; the course number is given with an Arabic numeral, then a decimal point, and a subject number. This pattern differs from that of many U. S. universities; the course which many universities would designate as "Physics 101" is, at MIT, "8.01." All students are required to take two terms of physics (8.01 and 8.02), a term each of biology and chemistry, as well as two terms of calculus (18.01 and 18.02).

Most of the science and engineering classes follow a standard pattern. Typically, a professor gives a lecture that explains a concept. Then, teaching assistants lead recitations to explore fuller details, or often to provide students help on homework problems. Problem sets, given roughly weekly, are designed to enable the student to master the concept. Students often gather in informal groups to solve the problem sets, and it is within these groups that much of the actual learning takes place. Over time, students compile "bibles," collections of problem set and examination questions and answers. They may be created over several years and are often handed down "from generation to generation"—bearing in mind that "generations" of student time may be short-lived.

In many classes, the problem sets make up a relatively small fraction of the grade. The rest of the evaluation consists of performance on tests, which typically contain grueling problems that measure the students' ability to apply their knowledge, often to something not specifically covered in class. Problem sets and tests, even for the large introductory freshmen classes, are usually free response, hand graded, with much partial credit given to people who almost get the answer right. This is highly labor intensive, and after a test for a large class one can see a room full of teaching assistants and professors hand-grading the examinations.

The lack of machine grading and multiple-choice stems from the belief that understanding the concept is almost as important as getting the right answer. For example, students are seldom strongly penalized for making arithmetic mistakes, and partial credit tends to be generous. Tests often consist a small number of large problems which are subdivided into smaller steps. Test problems are intentionally extremely difficult and often clever, and are designed so that few students can obtain a perfect score. On the other hand, the assignment of grades reflects the difficulty, and most classes end with a grade distribution centered around B or C.

Although professors often use the average performance of a class to gauge the difficulty of an exam or a course, MIT policy does not permit grade cutoffs based purely on predetermined percentages or statistics (i.e. grading "on a curve") [1] ( This policy is intended, in part, to prevent a competitive atmosphere that occurs at some other universities, where the students want one another to do poorly in order to improve their own prospects.

MIT has been at least nominally coeducational since admitting Ellen Swallow Richards in 1870, if not earlier. For some years past, it has admitted slightly more women students than men.

Culture and student life

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Barker Library, inside the Great Dome

MIT notes that it has never awarded an honorary degree, and that the only way to receive an MIT diploma is to earn it. In addition, it does not award athletic scholarships, ad eundem degrees, or Latin honors upon graduation — the philosophy is that the honor is in being an MIT graduate.

MIT faculty and students pride themselves on pure intellectual ability and achievement, and while grade inflation has run rampant at other elite colleges, MIT professors often say that they grade with "all the letters of the alphabet". Due to these academic pressures, MIT culture is characterized by a love-hate relationship. The informal motto of the school is IHTFP ( ("I hate this fucking place," although some jocularly render it as "I have truly found paradise", or "Institute Has The Finest Professors"). The wide acceptance of this motto is shown by its (inconspicuous) incorporation in the design of the class ring ( of some graduating classes.

The school has a powerful anti-authoritarian ethos in which it is believed that one's social status should be determined by raw intellectual prowess rather than by social class or organizational position. Other beliefs that are strongly held by people within the school are that information should be widely disseminated and not held secret, and that truth is a matter of empirical reality rather than the result of popular belief or management directive. Many of the values of the Institute have influenced the hacker ethic. The term "hacker" and much of hacker culture originated at MIT, starting with the TMRC and MIT AI Lab in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Resident hackers have included Richard Stallman and professors Gerald Jay Sussman and Tom Knight. At MIT, however, the term "hack" has multiple meanings. "To hack" can mean to physically explore areas (often on-campus, but also off) that are generally off-limits such as rooftops and steam tunnels. "Hack" as a noun also means an elaborate practical joke (see the MIT Hack Gallery (, and not just a clever technical feat. The best hacks are humorous technical feats. The most famous hacks have been the weather balloon saying "MIT" which popped up out of the ground on the 50 yard line at the Harvard / Yale Football Game, and The Great Dome Police Car Hack, where the body shell of a campus police car mysteriously appeared on the top of the almost inaccessible Great Dome one morning (complete with a dozen donuts). See also hack (technology slang) and roof and tunnel hacking.

Traditionally, the appearance of a new issue of Voo Doo, the MIT humor magazine, was accompanied by some sort of hack by the staff, the most memorable of which was probably the landing of a helicopter within the Great Court, from which emerged a person in a gorilla suit who ran into Building 10, grabbed a copy of the new issue, and ran back out to the helicopter which then left. The FAA expressed its displeasure over the failure to file a correct flight plan within a heavily trafficed area with heavy fines. The John F. Kennedy assassination occurred on a Voo Doo-release Friday. Many students discounted early word-of-mouth news of the event, suspecting it of being a Voo Doo stunt; Voo Doo's taste, discretion, and political leanings in 1963 made this at least conceivable.

MIT's particular strain of anti-authoritarianism has manifested itself in other forms. In 1977, two female students, juniors Susan Gilbert and Roxanne Ritchie, were disciplined for publishing an article on April 28 of that year in the "alternative" MIT campus weekly thursday. Entitled Consumer Guide to MIT Men, the article was a sex survey of 36 men the two claimed to have slept with, and the men were rated according to their sexual performance: no star (a turkey), one star (recommended in emergencies only), two stars (mediocre but worth trying), three stars (a good lay), and four stars (a must fuck).

Gilbert and Ritchie had intended to turn the tables on the rating systems and facebooks men use for women and act as the aggressors, but their article led not only to disciplinary action taken against them, but to a protest petition signed by 200 students, as well as condemnation by President Jerome B. Wiesner, who published a fierce criticism of the article. The weeklys Feature Editor and Editor-in-Chief were also disciplined for running the piece.[2] (

In 1970, the then-Dean of Institute Relations, Benson R. Snyder, published The Hidden Curriculum, in which he argues that a mass of unstated assumptions and requirements dominates MIT students' lives and inhibits their ability to function creatively. Snyder contends that these unwritten regulations often outweigh the "formal curriculum"'s effect, and that the situation is not unique to MIT.

MIT has a very broad student athletics program, having 42 varsity-level sports to boast of. MIT's sports teams are called the Engineers; their mascot since 1914 being a beaver, "nature's engineer". (Or sometimes: "The beaver is the engineer among animals—MIT students are the animals among engineers.") They participate in the NCAA's Division III, the New England Women and Men's Athletic Conference, the New England Football Conference, and NCAA's Division I and Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges (EARC) for crew. They fielded several dominant intercollegiate Tiddlywinks teams through 1980, winning national and world championships[3] ( MIT teams have won or placed highly in national championships in pistol, track and field, cross country, crew, and water polo.

MIT has its own student-run radio station, WMBR.

Undergraduate life

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Simmons Hall, built in 2003

The undergraduate dormitories tend to be extremely close-knit, and the Institute provides live-in graduate student tutors and faculty housemasters who have the dual role of both helping students and monitoring them for medical or health problems. Students are permitted to select their dorm and floor upon arrival on campus, and as a result diverse communities arise in living groups. Although many dorms contain a wide range of living options, the dorms east of Massachusetts Avenue are stereotypically more involved in countercultural activities. Random Hall, living up to its name, is on the north side of campus, and Bexley Hall, in ironic juxtaposition to its "far-out" culture, is located centrally.

Many MIT students live in fraternities and independent living groups; however, after the alcohol-related death of Scott Krueger in September 1997, MIT made several decisions that affected the lives of undergraduates in subsequent years, including the decision that all freshmen live in Institute housing beginning in 2002. Simmons Hall was built in 2003 as a response to the increased housing demand this decision brought about.

The case of Scott Krueger is often cited as indicative of a recent trend among U.S. colleges and universities of having greater parental responsibilities. The aftermath of this event led to a formal apology by president Charles Vest, a $6 million settlement with the Krueger family, and the restructuring of the undergraduate housing and advisory system [4] ( The Krueger case marked the increasing influence of the doctrine of in loco parentis on college campuses across the country, making them accountable for alcohol-related deaths of their students. The suicide death of Elizabeth Shin in 2000 also played a role in this trend and led to further restructuring in how MIT and other institutions deal with the mental health issues of their student populations [5] (

In November 2001, the "Mental Health Task Force" released a report ( describing the psychological condition of the student population. The Task Force report relates a survey, conducted in the spring of 2001, whose results they found troubling:

Of the students who responded to the survey (half undergraduate and half graduate), 74% reported having had an emotional problem that interfered with their daily functioning while at MIT, while only 28% had used the MIT Mental Health Service. Even more worrisome, 35% of students reported a wait of 10 or more days for their initial appointment with the service, and 80% of the students were not aware of the daily afternoon walk-in hours. While nearly two-thirds of students rated their experience with the MIT Mental Health Service as satisfactory to excellent, only half would recommend the service to a friend, and overall, students saw the service as having a mediocre reputation.

Interestingly, in the early 1960s only about 10% of the student body sought out the Mental Health services during their time at MIT (see Snyder's The Hidden Curriculum, 1970). As of 2004, MIT Mental Health is proverbial among students for sending depressed patients to McLean Hospital, and for occasionally refusing to let them return after McLean's staff believes they are healthy. This habit has drawn both commentary [6] ( and derision [7] (

Brass Rat

Despite the disdain that many MIT graduates profess for academic tradition, a very large number of them proudly wear an MIT class ring, which is large, heavy, distinctive, and easily recognized from a considerable distance. Originally created in 1929, the undergraduate ring design varies slightly from year to year to reflect the unique character of the MIT experience for that class but always features a three-piece design, with the MIT seal and the class year each appearing on a separate shank, flanking a massive bezel bearing an image of a beaver. Its official name is the "Standard Technology Ring", but its colloquial name is far more well known—the "Brass Rat". Traditionally, the ring is worn with the beaver facing inwards until graduation, then turned the other way; or, as the unofficial folklore puts it, "While you're an undergrad, the beaver shits on you; after you graduate, the beaver shits on the world".

MIT in popular culture

In terms of MIT's role in popular culture, its overall reputation is more significant than any particular aspect of its history or student lifestyle. Because the Institute is fairly well-known as a breeding ground for technology and technologists, the makers of modern media are able to use it to establish character in a way that mainstream audiences can understand. Frequently, when a character in Hollywood cinema is required to have a science or engineering background, the film establishes that he or she is an MIT graduate or associate. This phenomenon is clearly at work in the films Good Will Hunting (1997) and A Beautiful Mind (2001), to name two recent examples. The technique is visible in such varied works as Independence Day (1994), The Phantom Planet (1961) [8] (, and Orgazmo (1997), and in the computer games Half-Life (1998, through the character Gordon Freeman) and Metal Gear Solid (1998, through the character of Mei Ling) .

The MIT interior scenes in A Beautiful Mind and Good Will Hunting were filmed elsewhere, the latter at the University of Toronto and Central Technical High School in Toronto. However, Blown Away (1994) was allowed to film in Killian Court [9] ( Despite its on-location presence, the film still makes numerous geographical errors about MIT's layout and that of Boston in general [10] (

Some cinematic references to MIT betray a mild anti-intellectualism, or at least a lack of respect for "book learning". For example, Space Cowboys (2000) features the seasoned hero (Clint Eastwood) trying to explain a piece of antiquated spacecraft technology to a rather whippersnapping youngster. When the young astronaut fails to comprehend Eastwood's explanation, he snaps that "I have two master's degrees from MIT", to which Eastwood replies, "Maybe you should get your money back." Similarly, Gus van Sant's introduction to the published Good Will Hunting screenplay suggests that the lead character's animosity towards official MIT academia reflects a class struggle with ethnic undertones, in particular Will Hunting's Irish background versus the "English aristocracy" of the MIT faculty.

Noted physicist and raconteur Richard Feynman built up a collection of anecdotes about his MIT undergraduate years, several of which are retold in his loose memoir Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! Some of this material was incorporated into Matthew Broderick's film Infinity (1996), in addition to Feynman stories from Far Rockaway, Princeton and Los Alamos.

Maxwell Griffith's novel The Gadget Maker (1955) traces the life of aeronautical engineer Stanley Brack, who performs his undergraduate studies at MIT. Ben Bova's novel The Weathermakers (1966) about scientists developing methods to prevent hurricanes from reaching land, is also set in part at MIT.

MIT's influence extends into comic strips. Dilbert received a degree from Course VI, Doonesbury's Kim Rosenthal almost earned her Ph.D in computer science, dropping out because it was "too easy". Bill Amend's FoxTrot has also made MIT allusions, in keeping with the strip's genial satire of nerd subcultures.

In a similar vein, the song "Etoh" by the electronic music group The Avalanches describes MIT as "the home of complicated computers which speak a mechanical language all their own".

HBO's television miniseries From the Earth to the Moon contains segments set at MIT, most notably in the episode covering Apollo 14. The series portrays the Institute's denizens as very slightly eccentric engineers who do their part to keep the Apollo program running successfully.

MIT is a recurring motif in the works of Kurt Vonnegut, much like the planet Tralfamadore or the Vietnam War. In part, this recurrence may stem from Vonnegut family history: both his grandfather Bernard and his father Kurt, Sr. studied at MIT and received bachelor's degrees in architecture. His younger brother, another Bernard, earned a bachelor's and a Ph.D. in chemistry, also at MIT. Since so many of Vonnegut's stories are ambivalent or outright pessimistic with regard to technology's impact on humankind, it is hardly surprising that his references to the Institute express a mixed attitude. In Hocus Pocus (1990), the Vietnam-veteran narrator Eugene Debs Hartke applies for graduate study in MIT's physics program, but his plans go awry when he tangles with a hippie at a Harvard Square Chinese restaurant. Hartke observes that men in uniform had become a ridiculous sight around colleges, even though both Harvard and MIT obtained much of their income from weapons R&D. ("I would have been dead if it weren't for that great gift to civilization from the Chemistry Department of Harvard, which was napalm, or sticky jellied gasoline.") Jailbird notes drily that MIT's eighth president was one of the three-man committee who upheld the Sacco and Vanzetti ruling, condemning the two men to death. As reported in the 7 June 1927 Tech:

President Samuel W. Stratton has recently been appointed a member of a committee which will advise Governor Alvan T. Fuller in his course of action in the Sacco-Vanzetti case, it was announced a few days ago by the metropolitan press. The President is one of a committee of three appointed, the others being President A. Lawrence Lowell of Harvard and Judge Robert Grant. It was stated at Dr. Stratton's office that this appointment was very reluctantly accepted, for not only has the President not had experience with criminal law procedure, but he has not been following the case at all in the newspapers. It is thought by some that this very fact may result in an entirely unbiased review of the case, which might not be possible had he followed the case closely [11] (

Palm Sunday (1981) a loose collage of essays and other material, contains a markedly skeptical and humanist commencement address Vonnegut gave to Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. Speaking of the role religion plays in modern society, Vonnegut notes

We no longer believe that God causes earthquakes and crop failures and plagues when He gets mad at us. We no longer imagine that He can be cooled off by sacrifices and festivals and gifts. I am so glad we don't have to think up presents for Him anymore. What's the perfect gift for someone who has everything?
The perfect gift for somebody who has everything, of course, is nothing. Any gifts we have should be given to creatures right on the surface of the planet, it seems to me. If God gets angry about that, we can call in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There's a very good chance they can calm Him down.

Kurt Vonnegut was friends with fellow humanist and writer Isaac Asimov, who resided for many years in Newton, Massachusetts. During much of this time, Asimov chose the date for the MIT Science Fiction Society's annual picnic, citing a superstition that he always picked a day with good weather. In his copious autobiographical writings, Asimov reveals a mild predilection for the Institute's architecture, and an awareness of its aesthetic possibilities. For example, In Joy Still Felt (1980) describes a 1957 meeting with Catherine de Camp, who was checking out colleges for her teenage son. Asimov recalls

I hadn't seen her for five years and she was forty-nine now, and I felt I would be distressed at seeing her beauty fade.
How wrong I was! I saw her coming down the long corridor at MIT and she looked almost as though it were still 1941, when I had first met her.

Asimov's work, too, trades on MIT's reputation for narrative effect, even touching upon the anti-intellectualism theme. In "The Dead Past" (1956), the scientist-hero Foster must overcome the attitudes his Institute physics training has entrenched in his mind, before he can make his critical breakthrough.

The Infocom game The Lurking Horror is set on the campus of the George Underwood Edwards Institute of Technology, which strongly resembles MIT. Its fictional culture also parodies the MIT culture. For instance, G.U.E. Tech's class ring is known as the brass hyrax.

Frequently one sees Japanese tourists photographing each other with Building 10, site of the Great Dome, in the background.

Related institutions

The Tang Center at the
The Tang Center at the
MIT Sloan School of Management

MIT's schools

MIT is organized into five schools which contain 27 academic departments:

  • School of Architecture and Planning: Architecture, Media Arts and Sciences, Urban Studies and Planning
  • School of Engineering: Aeronautics and Astronautics, Biological Engineering Division, Chemical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Engineering Systems Division, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, Ocean Engineering
  • School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences: Anthropology, Comparative Media Studies, Economics, Foreign Languages and Literatures, History, Humanities, Linguistics and Philosophy, Literature, Music and Theatre Arts, Political Science, Science, Technology, and Society, Writing and Humanistic Studies
  • Alfred P. Sloan School of Management
  • School of Science: Biology, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Chemistry, Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Mathematics, Physics

Other MIT labs and groups

MIT also has many laboratories, centers and programs which cut across disparate disciplines. These include:

External relationships

MIT has close ties to a number of institutions. The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, now an independent defense contractor, was founded as the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, and still shares some facilities and faculty with MIT. (The Draper Lab, which designed missile guidance systems, was spun off during the Vietnam War to assuage antiwar feeling on campus and in the city of Cambridge, while holding on to the more lucrative defense contracts at Lincoln Laboratory.) The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution runs its graduate program jointly with MIT.

An example of cooperation, "The Coop" is the official bookstore of both institutions
An example of cooperation, "The Coop" is the official bookstore of both institutions

MIT has a friendly rivalry with Harvard University which dates back to the earliest days of the Institute, and the aforementioned merger talks between the two schools. Today, they cooperate as much as they compete, with many joint conferences and programs, including the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology ( and the Harvard-MIT Data Center ( In addition, students at the two schools can cross-register (i.e., MIT students can register for courses offered at Harvard, and vice versa) without any additional fees, for credits toward their own school's degrees. Another cross-registration program exists between MIT and Wellesley College, a renowned women's college in suburban Wellesley, MA. The city of Cambridge is notable for the presence of two major research universities within two miles of each other. A third major research university, Boston University, is located between MIT and Harvard on the Boston side of the Charles River. These three schools jointly run the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology (

MIT maintains an undergraduate exchange program with the University of Cambridge in England, and a partnership known as the Cambridge-MIT Institute, which was established to bring the entrepreneurial spirit of MIT to Britain and to increase knowledge exchange between universities and industry. MIT also has close but informal ties with one of Britain's top engineering universities, the University of Southampton, which has its own thriving collection of spin-off businesses.

MIT has also set up relationships with the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore known as the Singapore-MIT alliance. This has enabled it to take quality engineering education to a higher number of students. In 2004, MIT setup the MIT-Zaragoza Logistics Program modelled on its own masters degree in logistics. The MIT-Zaragoza program was set up with the local government of Aragon, University of Zaragoza and MIT and hopes to bring quality education in logistics and supply chain management to Europe.


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Killian Court and The Great Dome

MIT buildings all have a number and most have a name as well. Typically, academic and office buildings are referred to only by number while residence halls are referred to by name. A network of underground tunnels connects many of the buildings, providing protection from the Cambridge weather. Students agree that this maze is a welcome feature, enabling them to get from class to class without getting cold or wet. The bridge closest to MIT is the Harvard Bridge. It is the longest bridge crossing the Charles River. The bridge is marked off in the fanciful unit called the Smoot: 364.4 Smoots and One Ear. The Kendall MBTA Red Line station is located on the far northeastern edge of the campus. The neighborhood of MIT is a mixture of high tech companies seeded by MIT alumni combined with working class neighborhoods of Cambridge (see Kendall Square).

Early constructions

The most striking part of the campus is Killian Court, also known as the Great Court, in front of the Great Dome, where commencement is held (as well as the annual J. Edgar Hoover Memorial Celebration on May 2, for several years following his death on May 2, 1972), but most of the campus contains a jumble of different architectural styles which many accuse of lacking elegance. A few other buildings are architecturally significant, including Baker House (the dormitory designed by Alvar Aalto) and Eero Saarinen's Kresge Auditorium. The first buildings constructed on the Cambridge campus are known officially as the Maclaurin buildings, completed in 1916, after Institute president Richard Maclaurin who oversaw their construction; they surround Killian Court on three sides. On one side of Killian Court is the Infinite Corridor, which serves as something of a main artery for the campus, connecting east campus with west campus. The Infinite Corridor runs through two domes: the Great Dome, which is featured in most publicity shots, and the lesser dome (surmounting what is known as "Lobby 7" after its building number), which opens into Massachusetts Avenue, and which is the entrance most often used as well as the official address of the Institute as a whole. The Star Trek episode "Bread and Circuses" uses a shot of the Great Dome to depict a generic building on a planet dominated by ancient Roman culture.

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Frieze on Building 2 dedicated to Newton

The Maclaurin buildings, in many ways the public "entrance" of MIT, were designed by Welles Bosworth based on plans developed by wealthy alumnus and hydraulic engineer John Ripley Freeman. Bosworth's design was drawn so as to admit large amounts of light through exceptionally large windows on the first and second floors, many internal windows—not only on office doors but above door-level, and skylights over huge stairwells. The interior decor of the Maclaurin buildings is stylistically consistent throughout. Its major architectural features are the Infinite Corridor, an impressive central dome, and the expansive domed lobby at the main 77 Massachusetts Ave. entrance. The friezes of these buildings are carved in large Roman letters with the names of Aristotle, Newton, Franklin, Pasteur, Lavoisier, Faraday, Archimedes, da Vinci, Darwin, and Copernicus; each of these names is surmounted by a cluster of appropriately related names in smaller letters. Lavoisier, for example, is placed in the company of Boyle, Cavendish, Priestley, Dalton, Gay Lussac, Berzelius, Woehler, Liebig, Bunsen, Mendelejeff [sic], Perkin, and van't Hoff.

I. M. Pei '40 designed a number of MIT buildings constructed in this period, including the Green Building (Building 54), headquarters of the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science Department and the tallest building on campus; Building 66, the Chemical Engineering Department; and the Weisner Building (Building E15), the Media Laboratory, whose tiled exterior was designed by Kenneth Noland.

Writing in 1970, Benson Snyder reports,

A decade ago the corridors and stairwells gave testimony to their usefulness. They were long and straight, many with pipes exponsed overhead, and all painted a drab gray-green. (Now deep blue or orange, set against white, has recently begun to replace the green.) The campus itself was laid out at the turn of the century in geometric patterns with large utilitarian Roman temples interspersed with square or rectangular patches of lawn. Ten years ago the grass was gradually being taken over by expanding parking lots and new laboratories. (Now the buildings are interspersed with small gardens, islands in the sun.)

Recent building efforts

MIT's Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences
MIT's Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences

A major building effort has been underway for several years (as of 2005), including the Simmons Hall dormitory (designed by Steven Holl), the Zesiger sports and fitness center, and a new home for the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research (designed by Charles Correa).

The Frank Gehry-designed Stata Center opened in March, 2004. Boston Globe architecture columnist Robert Campbell wrote a glowing appraisal of the building on April 25th. According to Campbell, "the Stata is always going to look unfinished. It also looks as if it's about to collapse. Columns tilt at scary angles. Walls teeter, swerve, and collide in random curves and angles. Materials change wherever you look: brick, mirror-surface steel, brushed aluminum, brightly colored paint, corrugated metal. Everything looks improvised, as if thrown up at the last moment. That's the point. The Stata's appearance is a metaphor for the freedom, daring, and creativity of the research that's supposed to occur inside it." Campbell stated that the cost overruns and delays in completion of the Stata Center are of no more importance than similar problems associated with the building of St. Paul's Cathedral. The 2005 Kaplan/Newsweek guide "How to Get into College" (, which lists twenty-five universities its editors consider notable in some respect, recognizes MIT as having the "hottest architecture", placing most of its emphasis on the Stata Center.

The building of the Stata Center necessitated the removal of the much-beloved Building 20 in 1998. Building 20 was erected hastily during World War II as a temporary building that housed the historic Radiation Laboratory. Over the course of fifty-five years, its "temporary" nature allowed research groups to have more space, and to make more creative use of that space, than was possible in more respectable buildings. Simson Garfinkel quoted Professor Jerome Y. Lettvin as saying "You might regard it as the womb of the Institute. It is kind of messy, but by God it is procreative!"

Famous people

Further reading

  • Stuart W. Leslie, The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford, Columbia University Press 1994
  • (For Susan Gilbert and Roxanne Ritchie controversy cited above) Ted Morgan, On Becoming American (Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1978), pp. 330-1.

External links


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