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  Wikipedia: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Wikipedia: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is an independent, coeducational university centered on science and technology, located along the Charles River in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts directly across from Boston and downstream from Harvard University. MIT is one of the premier research universities in the world. The school has a strong academic environment for learning; it is also a pioneer in including undergraduates in actual research, with the extensive UROP program, and thereby enhancing undergraduate education from being a dry memorization of prior work. MIT excels in science and technology, but is also strong in philosophy and a few of the social sciences such as economics, linguistics, and anthropology. Its best-known computer-related labs are the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Media Lab. Other important research laboratories include Lincoln Laboratory, the Research Laboratory of Electronics (an outgrowth of the World War II research center known as the Rad Lab), the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, and the Center for Genome Research.

The MIT student body comprises roughly 4000 undergraduates and 6000 graduate students.

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MIT's Great Dome, Building 10, and adjoining buildings, as viewed from across the Charles River.

"At night, floodlights glare from artfully concealing shrubbery and lave the main building with a white light that emphasizes black-trimmed, three-story windows rising in uninterrupted, eye-leading verticals toward a dominant, austere dome mimicked from some classic pile of ancient Rome. On every slab-sided cornice, like proclamations of faith needing no explanation, are chiseled Darwin, Newton, Aristotle and, in lesser letters, the names of the more numerous Lavoisiers and Eulers and Faradays who have discovered the chemical elements or evolved the equations or stumbled upon the fundamentals of nature. Indeed, not unlovely is the breeding ground of technicians and engineers which, as announced in stone above great, fluted columns, is the MASSACHVSETTS INSTITVTE OF TECHNOLOGY."

    —Maxwell Griffith, The Gadget Maker (1955) |}

MIT culture

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 as "I have truly found paradise" or "Intriguing Hacks To Fascinate People"). The wide acceptance of this motto is shown by its (inconspicuous) incorporation in the design of the class ring of some graduating classes. The antipathy felt in some quarters for the Institute as a whole is in contrast with the strong affection students feel for various parts of the school and the fierce loyalty paid to the school after graduation. 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 (with a strong bias for scientific prowess over mastery of the liberal arts) 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.

In fact, 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" also means an elaborate practical joke (see the MIT Hack Gallery).

There is a distinct difference in culture between the dormitories on the east side of campus, where people tend to be more "hippie-ish" and the dormitories on the west side of campus, where people tend to be more "preppie-ish." Random Hall, living up to its name, is on the north side of campus, and Bexley House, in ironic juxtaposition to its "far-out" culture, is located centrally. Within each housing unit, there are often distinctive subcultures on each floor or entry.

The 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. A 2001 Boston Globe study reported that MIT had the highest suicide rate in the 1990s out of 12 major universities of similar caliber, although Institute officials contend that the study was statistically flawed. Suicide rates continue to be a controversial issue that has influenced recent MIT policy, including a mandate of at least one holiday per month and renewed attention to mental health services (at McLean Hospital and elsewhere).

A great many MIT students live in fraternities and independent living groups; however, after an alcohol-related death in the late 1990s, MIT decided that all freshmen must live in Institute housing.

Despite the disdain that many MIT graduates profess for academic tradition, many of them nevertheless choose to wear an MIT class ring—which is large, heavy, distinctive, and easily recognized from a considerable distance. The design varies slightly from year to year, but is always made of solid gold (without any gemstone), and 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. It is usually called the "Brass Rat" (but officially named the "Standard Technology Ring").

Activities and groups

MIT is also known for its hacks. In this context, a hack is a practical joke, not just a clever technical feat -- the best hacks are humorous technical feats. The most famous hacks have been the balloon at the Harvard / Yale Football Game and The Great Dome Police Car Hack.

Other uniquely MIT traditions and groups include Shower night, IAP (including the IAP Mystery Hunt), the live-action role playing group Assassins' Guild, the Orange Tour of campus rooftops and steam tunnels, and course 6.270, the autonomous robot competition.

The number of students who play musical instruments, particularly piano and violin, is quite large for an institution that does not specialize in the arts. A number of a capella singing groups composed of MIT students regularly give free concerts on campus. Among these are the Chorallaries, the Logarhythms, the Cross Products, the Muses, Techiya, the Toons (which also includes some Wellesley women), and Res(((o)))nance. There are also the MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players and the MIT Musical Theatre Guild.

Undergraduate academics

There is a large amount of pressure in the classes, which have been characterized as "drinking from a firehose" or as "academic bootcamp". Although the perceived pressure is high, the failure rate both from classes and the institute as a whole is low. There is a refreshing lack of so-called "weed out" classes. The anti-authoritarian nature of the school—combined with its 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.

Majors are numbered, and students will typically refer to their major by the course number rather than the name. For example Electrical engineering and computer science is course 6 while Physics is course 8. The heavy science and technology focus of the university can be seen by the fact that liberal arts and humanties are subsumed into one department with one major (course 21). Classes are also generally refered to by number. All students are required to take physics (8.01) and (8.02) as well as 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 explain how to apply a concept to a specific problem. Weekly problem sets 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. One important element study technique is the use of "bibles," which are compilations of problem set and examination questions and answers created over the years by the students and handed down from generation to generation.

The problem set usually makes up a very small fraction of the grade. Most of the evaluation consists of performance on tests, which are typically grueling problems that measure the students' ability to apply what was learned in class to something not covered in class. Problem sets and tests, even for the large introductory freshmen classes, are always 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.

However, 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. The problems on tests are intentionally extremely difficult and often clever, and are designed so that no one in the class can get anything close to a perfect score. However, the difficulty is mitigated by the fact that generous partial credit is given, and that the scores are curved to how the class as a whole fars on the test. Most classes are B or C centered.

This mode of instruction has been criticized for not encouraging creativity and collaboration. Partly in response to such criticism, the Institute has a number of project-based courses such as the world-famous 2.007 (previously called 2.70) design contest, in which students compete with each other to design a machine that achieves a specific goal. Also, an important part of the undergraduate education is the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), in which undergraduates are encouraged to perform real research under a structure similar to a mentorship program. The academic pressure results in a lively extra-curricular environment on Fridays and the weekends.

MIT and other institutions

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 Instrumentation Lab, which designs missile guidance systems, was spun off during the Vietnam War to assuage anti-war feeling on campus and in the city of Cambridge, while holding on to the more lucrative defense contracts at MIT Lincoln Laboratory.) The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution runs its graduate program jointly with MIT.

MIT maintains a strong rivalry with Harvard and other Ivy League schools. Not surprisingly, the rivalry is one-sided. MIT students tend to stereotype Harvard students as pretententious, arrogant and more interested in social position than in acquiring knowledge. Harvard students tend to stereotype MIT students not at all; but when pressed, they see their would-be rivals as socially maladjusted geeks. Like most stereotypes, these images may often obscure the large differences within the institutions and some of the similarities between them.

The fact that these great centers of learning exist within a few miles along Massachusetts Avenue makes Cambridge one of the most interesting places to live in the United States.

Students at MIT and Harvard can cross-register, i.e. a student at either institution can register for courses at the others, as can students at Wellesley College and MIT.

MIT has great affinity and close ties with Britain's University of Southampton.

MIT also maintains an exchange program with the University of Cambridge in England known as the Cambridge-MIT Institute.


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.

Although Killian Court (the large courtyard that is always pictured in MIT publicity shots) is beautiful, most of the campus contains a jumble of buildings with different architectural styles and all the charm and elegance of a typical run-down industrial park. A few other buildings are architecturally significanct, including Baker House (the dormitory designed by Alvar Aalto), Eero Saarinen's Kresge Auditorium, and the Wiesner building (E15), designed by I. M. Pei with a striking tiled exterior by Kenneth Nolan (scorned by some as the "Pei Toilet").

The first buildings constructed on the Cambridge campus are known officially as the Maclaurin buildings after Institute president Richard Maclaurin who oversaw their construction, but in true MIT fashion are ordinarily known only by their numbers; 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, but whose entrance is not often used because it leads only to Killian Court; 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 Instutite as a whole. Below the Great Dome in the Infinite Corridor is a war memorial in which MIT students who have lost their in war are inscribed into the walls.

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. Freeman was angered by Maclaurin's choice of Bosworth as chief architect, expecting the result to be an incoherent, inefficient mélange of structures typical of many contemporary campuses. In fact, while Bosworth's design added a good deal of the sort of neoclassical ornamentation as was popular at the time, the interior layout remained true to Freeman's manifesto, and has remained a model (lately honored more in the breach than in the observance) for construction on the MIT campus to this day. The Maclaurin buildings were completed in 1916, allowing the Institute to consolidate its activities on the new Cambridge campus, having previously been in several buildings scattered through Boston's Back Bay district.

Boswell'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; above each of these big names is a cluster of appropriately related smaller names. 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.

A major building effort has been underway for several years (as of 2004), including the Stata Center (designed by Frank Gehry), the Simmons Hall dormitory (designed by Steven Holl), the Zeisiger sports and fitness center, and a new home for the Picower Center for Learning and Memory, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research (designed by Charles Correa).

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, intended to last "for the duration of the war and six months thereafter." 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. Fred Hapgood wrote "The edifice is so ugly...that it is impossible not to admire it, if that makes sense; it has 10 times the righteous nerdly swagger of any other building on campus." 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!"

The buildings built from the 1950s through 1970s have less much less charm, and cause much of the campus to have a jumble of archetectural styles. All students agree that when it rains or snows, the maze of underground tunnels is a welcomed feature that enables students 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. Maxwell Griffith (see picture caption above) wrote of it: "Even the low and ugly bridge connecting Boston and Cambridge adds that kind of beauty inherent in promises of better tomorrows, for it drives into the college campus as if to form a glory road for the march of progress sure to commence somewhere inside this Babel’s tower of modern science." In 1963 the United States Information Agency presented the bridge just as Griffith suggested in a flattering film about MIT entitled "Bridge to Tomorrow."

In contrast to the centrally located subway stop outside Harvard University, the Kendall MBTA Red Line station is located quite inconveniently, on the far northeastern edge of the campus, made more inconvenient by the buildings between the campus and the station. (Of course, the station predates the campus by several years, so it is legitimate to argue that this is MIT's fault for laying out the campus as it is.) The #1 bus (originally a streetcar line) is more centrally located and runs along Massachusetts Avenue to Boston to the south and Harvard Square to the north.

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).


MIT was founded in 1861 by William Barton Rogers, whose last words were given at an MIT commencement and were "bituminous coal". Around 1900, a merger was proposed with Harvard University, but was cancelled after loud protests from the alumni. MIT's prominence increased as a result of World War II (radar, most prominently) and the United States government's investment in science and technology in response to Sputnik.

Project Whirlwind, the pioneering computer built under the direction of Jay W. Forrester between 1947 and 1952 deserves special mention, not merely for its technological achievements (including the invention of magnetic core memory), but for its cultural contribution to the development of personal computing. Whereas the Princeton tradition centered around floating point arithmetic and numerical computation, Whirlwind centered around real-time control, a short word length of 16 bits, and, most important, a hands-on operational style. Results were displayed graphically on a cathode ray tube (rather than bring printed on an alphanumeric printer). In later years a pointing device called a "light gun" was devised, as well as interactive operation via a console Flexowriter. The interactive style of the "personal" computer can be traced from Whirlwind, via the PDP-1, TX-2, and TX-0, and MIT's time-sharing experiments.

In 2001, 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.


MIT has a very broad student athletics program, boasting 41 varsity-level sports.

MIT's sports teams are called the Beavers. They participate in the NCAA's Division III, the New England Women and Men's Athletic Conference, and the New England Football Conference.

Wikipedia Entries for MIT Departments

Distinguished professors

A few distinguished members of the faculty have the title of Institute Professor. [Perhaps these could be listed here?]

People Associated with MIT

Former MIT Students

MIT OpenCourseWare

In the year 2001, MIT announced that it planned to put all of its courseware online as part of its OpenCourseWare project.

External links



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
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