MIT Museum

The mission of the MIT Museum is to document, interpret, and communicate to a diverse audience the activities and achievements of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the worldwide impact of its innovations, particularly in the fields of science and technology; and to enhance the spirit of community inside the Institute through the promotion of dialog both at MIT and between the Institute and the wider world.

The museum served 60,138 visitors this year at the main exhibition center and the Compton and Hart Nautical Galleries. Among these were 182 groups from K–12 schools, colleges, senior centers, after-school programs, and human service and community organizations.


The museum's collections continue to be very actively used. Collectively, the collections and curatorial staff responded to over 1,500 research and reference requests. Joan Whitlow, registrar and collections manager, oversaw acquisition of 17 objects for the permanent collections and coordinated 23 new loans, several of which are highlighted below.

Architecture and Design Collection

A new curator of architecture and design, Gary Van Zante, joined the staff in September. Prior to coming to MIT, Van Zante was curator of the Southeastern Architectural Archive at Tulane University. Nicole Lapenta continued on staff as assistant to the curator. In June, we installed the exhibition Views Abroad: Architects on Tour, which featured 19th-century travel sketches and study drawings by several early Rotch Traveling Scholarship recipients. The exhibition examined the study tours of Europe that were part of the training of the architect, and included loans from the Rotch Library of Architecture and Planning and drawings from the museum's architecture collection.

Two major gifts this year figured in future exhibition planning as well as interpretive programs. Hugh Shepley '59 AR, retired partner of Shepley Bullfinch Richardson Abbott Architects in Boston, donated what is now our earliest architectural drawing, a large perspective study of c. 1522 attributed to Baldassare Peruzzi, one of the most important architects of the Italian Renaissance. The drawing was the subject of a graduate seminar in architecture given by Henry Millon, and is the focus of an exhibition planned for 2004 in the Wolk Gallery of the School of Architecture and Planning. A second major gift this year is also the subject of a forthcoming exhibition, the Monsanto House of the Future for Disneyland (1957–67), a prototype prefabricated plastic house initially developed under sponsored research at MIT. The gift that made this exhibition of project drawings and records possible was from Robert Whittier '51 CE, who was project engineer for the Monsanto house. We recruited four interns from area colleges this year to assist with research for these exhibitions and for other activities related to collections, adding about 400 hours available to projects.

Ongoing work on cataloguing and basic conservation of collections continued through the year. The earliest core collection of architectural drawings at the museum, the Ware Collection, was rehoused, and we completed a census of architectural collections to form the basis of future collections strategy.

Hart Nautical Collections

We are happy to announce a major addition of plans that strongly relate to our existing shipyard collections. In early 2003, we were contacted by the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) to survey the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, MA, for plans, prior to its public auction. We discovered approximately 5,000 plans relating to the shipyard plant from initial construction in 1900 through termination of shipbuilding in 1986. Daniel Quirk purchased the yard in early February and under the terms of the sale, he donated the plans and $12,000 for basic preservation and inventory of the collection. This work is now underway. The new Fore River-MARAD Collection documents the built environment of one of America's largest shipyards—the final episode of Boston's 350-year shipbuilding history. Now the Fore River Shipyard Collections in Hart are by far the largest in the country relating to a major shipyard. As these collections become more accessible, scholars and students of shipbuilding and industrial history will be richly rewarded.

Our plans for incremental change in the Hart Nautical Gallery were happily modified when we were approached by a student group that had won a grant from the Microsoft iCampus Project. The Iquarium group has decided to integrate their very exciting interactive display of vortical fluid flow in the wake of swimming fish into Hart's ocean engineering exhibit. Museum staff will assist the Iquarium group with a kiosk design and consult about how best to present the interpretive content explaining the display. We are extremely pleased to participate in this iCampus project which fits so perfectly within our existing exhibit.

Curator Kurt Hasselbalch was also active in educational programming. In addition to a successful fourth year of our IAP nautical skills program, he organized a tour of a working shipyard in Essex, MA, for MIT students. He also participated in gallery talks and local area school visits to the museum.

All 450 films and videotapes in Hart were cataloged and databased. About 900 inquiries were received via phone, fax, email, and regular mail, and they generated $6,100 in total revenue from plan and photo sales, and fees and royalties.

Holography Collection

We completed a major project to provide autonomous online access to the Holography Collection, and the site is now directly linked to the museum's web site. With a consultant who is a moving image archivist, we undertook a survey of the holography film collection, rehoused 100 16-mm films, and entered catalog information about them into a database.

The collection was used for lectures and programs, including a Media Arts and Science 450 (Holographic Imaging) lecture on holographic interferometry given by President Charles Vest, and holography studios for adults on optical color mixing techniques and shadowgrams. There were 28 research inquiries, the end result of which included an article on the history of holography entitled "Holography: The Whole Picture" by Tim Palucka, featured in American Heritage of Invention & Technology, winter 2003, and plans for a new exhibition Light from Shadow, curated by holographer Paula Dawson and art historian John Gage, that will be on view at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery in New South Wales, Australia, later this year. Ten holograms from the museum's collection will be loaned to this exhibition.

Science and Technology Collections

The most significant collections project of the past year has been the cataloging and rehousing of the MIT Radiation Laboratory Negative Collection. This work, supported by an NEH Preservation Assistance Grant, has involved one part-time archivist and four interns from Simmons College. Phase I involved the development of the database, cataloging and rehousing procedures, an inventory of the entire collection, preservation assessment and rehousing all 8x10-inch negatives. The Research Laboratory of Electronics will provide support to cover phases II and IV of the project, and plans are underway to apply for a grant from the IEEE Foundation.

Significant acquisitions for the collection included the robot Kismet and the first optical scanning system. Important loans were made to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Museum of Flight in Seattle, and a collaborative project with the Minnesota Science Center. One important project for MIT was the acquisition of the Arthur D. Little (ADL) collection. Curator Deborah Douglas served as the liaison between MIT and the ADL alumni group and facilitated the selection and purchase of the collection. The museum is assisting the Institute Archives with the ongoing cataloging of this collection.

Magnetron from the exhibition The Winning Hand. MIT Radiation Laboratory Negative Collection.

The curator developed a new section on arts education at MIT for the exhibition Mind and Hand: The Making of MIT Scientists and Engineers that was completed in the fall of 2002. Continuous refinement of the gallery displays involves planning for new interactive exhibits on petroleum refining technology and spectroscopy. She also organized the exhibition The Winning Hand: Images from the MIT Radiation Laboratory Negative Collection that opened in November 2003. This yearlong exhibition showcases 30 images from the Rad Lab Negative Collection that explore the ways the research and development work of the laboratory was documented. Smaller exhibit projects included the one-week display of the wind tunnel model of Battery Park as part of MIT and American Association of Museums-related activities marking the one-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

MIT's Radiation Laboratory revolutionized radar by using microwaves instead of long waves, a development made possible by the British invention of the cavity magnetron, a special type of electronic tub. E. G. Bowen (seated), member of the British scientific mission that brought the first magnetron to the Radiation Laboratory in 1940, is being shown an American-made copy by Radiation Laboratory director L. A. DuBridge (left) and assistant director I. I. Rabi, a Nobel Prize winner (right.). MIT Radiation Laboratory Negative Collection.

The curator also responded to 200 research and reference inquiries and coordinated the month-long research visit of Dr. Priska Gisler of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, who is looking at the MIT Museum as a case study for a research project on the representation of science in museums.

Photograph and Film Collections

Jenny O'Neill, curatorial assistant, received and responded to over 250 research requests including 100 requests for photographs. Seventy researchers used the collection in person. Notable projects for which the photo and film collections were used extensively include: the new book Nightwork, a compendium of the best MIT hacks and pranks, jointly published by the museum and MIT Press; EECS 100th anniversary; a publication on former MIT president Jerome Wiesner; a history of the MIT Campus Police; and a history of women at MIT post-World War II.

The museum received a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation for preservation work on two films: Radar Indicators, produced by the Radiation Lab in 1944, and The Airplane at Play, depicting the aerial stunts of Charles Stark Draper in the early 1930s.

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Education and Outreach

This year, staff continued development of a strong education focus. Signe Pereira, the education coordinator, worked on the development of school activities and projects, particularly for curriculum-based activities. In addition, the director of exhibitions and public programs, Beryl Rosenthal, has developed and implemented a series of plans and procedures which drive the direction of this public-focused component, and coalesced departmental efforts. In April, we debuted a new, free, monthly program, Object Lessons, where curators and educators lead lunchtime gallery talks about key objects from the museum's vast and intriguing collections.

Family Programming

The museum's monthly program series, Family Adventures in Science and Technology (FAST), and the Friday After Thanksgiving (FAT) Science Chain Reaction with Arthur Ganson, continued to attract substantial media attention and many enthusiastic participants. This year, hands-on FAST programs were codeveloped and generously staffed by students, faculty, and researchers from the Plasma Science and Fusion Center, Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems, Physics, the joint program in Oceanography (MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute), and Civil and Environmental Engineering.

FAT Science with Arthur Ganson attracted a very large crowd of over 600 participants who filled duPont Gymnasium. This year we augmented the experience at duPont with related activities at the museum, staffed by volunteers from Sun Microsystems. Together FAST and FAT programs provided high-quality, MIT-centered science and technology experiences to over 2,000 visitors.

We also introduced a December holiday lecture, "Phamily Physics Phun," with support from the Plasma Science and Fusion Center, and sponsored a Cambridge Kids Free Week commencing with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on January 20.

As was the case last year, National Engineers Week, public school vacation week, and the February FAST coincided, and we were able to implement a week-long celebration thanks to the support of the School of Engineering (particularly the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) and Leaders for Manufacturing program, with participants from Boeing and Intel. We also received in-kind support from the Cambridge company iRobot.

Through our partnership with the Media Lab in the Playful Invention and Exploration (PIE) Network, we were able to continue a twice-monthly series of programs called Invention Studios, utilizing emerging technologies. We also began offering PIE-based programs to homeschool and adult audiences.

This summer, the museum is developing a series of tabletop activities around the themes of flight and architecture, which can be utilized in the galleries by facilitators when desired. They will provide additional activities for the casual drop-in visitor and help create a positive visitor experience. Flight was chosen as a theme because we are developing an exhibit and a series of programs marking the centennial of flight.

School and Group Programming

The museum's popular school and group programs served students from throughout the state and greater New England. We also offered several free opportunities to Cambridge Public Schools (particularly to students enrolled in the Tobin School, the district's math and science magnet venue). We held our first teacher workshop through the Museum Institute for Teaching Science (MITS), and served 40 teachers, and launched a regular monthly teacher workshop on interdisciplinary teaching. This summer, 52 teachers are attending our second MITS workshop, and we look forward to regular increases in teacher workshop attendance. Through our relationship with the Public Service Center, we were able to develop a relationship with the Rockport and Salem Public Schools, with whom we partnered to develop a series of lesson plans for grades K–12 around maritime history and nautical science.

We continue to serve the needs of MIT faculty and students through cooperative programming for IAP, the MITES2/SEED program, and through support of student initiatives such as HyperCollision, a project of the Arts and Technology at Tech group.

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Main Facility

FY2003 was another banner year for exhibitions at the museum. We implemented a new plan for changing exhibitions in one of our galleries, thereby creating the expectation in the public mind that there will always be a new exhibition at the museum. Exhibitions in that venue included Perils of the Sea: Man's Timeless Struggle With the Sea, and The Winning Hand: Images from the Radiation Lab. We are in the planning stages for a scrapbook-style exhibition celebrating the centennial of flight, entitled Hub of the Air Universe: A Century of Flight in Massachusetts, which will focus on flight in Massachusetts and MIT's role in its development. This exhibition will be accompanied by a yearlong series of programs.

In the Thinkapalooza activity space, Ron MacNeil's virtual "Metafield Maze" continues to delight and frustrate visitors. We are currently developing an upgrade to the system that will allow visitors to select one of several maze options, making this even more interactive. We are also planning a temporary exhibition of work by Naoko Tosa, a CAVS Fellow, which will focus on her ZENetic Computer.

In response to renewed interest in the artist Charles Woodbury, MIT Class of 1886, we mounted a small temporary exhibition of his work from our extensive Woodbury collection. This complemented Woodbury exhibitions at two Boston galleries.

Compton Gallery

The museum installed four exhibitions in the Compton Gallery. We worked with CAVS Senior Fellow Elizabeth Goldring on ey-, consisting of retina prints and poetry. Goldring is a severely visually challenged artist whose work has special significance to other individuals who are visually challenged. This exhibition was designed with these audiences in mind, and included an audio component of recorded poetry (read by Goldring) and large format text and labels. We collaborated on the highly successful From Page to Stage: A Theatrical Process, which focused on the work of the Theater Arts section. The exhibit space was designed with a small program presentation area, and was used as a classroom on many occasions by Theater Arts. We also collaborated with acclaimed designer Steven Holl Associates and the Department of Architecture on an installation of the firm's recent work, including Simmons Hall, entitled Light, Material and Detail. The Hacks Are Back, a retrospective exhibition on hacking at MIT, opened in June to coincide with Commencement and Technology Day, and to celebrate the publication of the new hacks book Nightwork, jointly published by the museum and the MIT Press.

Traveling Exhibitions

Two traveling exhibitions currently offered by the museum are touring throughout the United States: Seeing the Unseen: Photographs by Harold Edgerton and Approaching Chaos (now on its final leg).

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We launched the Friends of the MIT Museum program in November and to date 40 donors have made generous gifts totaling $32,500. We raised an additional $79,000 in gifts and grants from alumni, the Council for the Arts at MIT, Massachusetts Department of Education, National Endowment for the Humanities, and National Film Preservation Foundation. They helped to fund new exhibitions and education programs as well as collections preservation projects.

Public Relations and Marketing

Secretary of State William Galvin, Kurt Hasselbalch, curator of the Hart Nautical Collections, and chancellor Phillip Clay at the June 25 event held at the Museum to return 18th century bounty warrants recently found in the Hart Nautical Collection to the Massachusetts State Archives.

In January, consultant Jack Curtis was hired to provide public relations and marketing services. His efforts have increased listings and story coverage in story coverage in the Boston Globe, community and niche newspapers. During this time, the museum also expanded its participation in the promotions and publications of Cambridge's and Boston's tourism boards. Working with the Office of Government and Community Relations, he helped stage and promote a museum press event, the return of 18th-century bounty warrants to the Massachusetts Archives, which received noteworthy media coverage. Jack also wrote and taped a public service announcement that will air on Cambridge Community Television's three channels through May 2004. He fostered relationships with Big Brothers and Sisters and Jewish Big Brothers and Sisters of Boston as outreach to undeserved communities and initiated a free summer admission program for them.

Retail and Functions

We have continued our partnership with the MIT COOP in offering a line of retail goods, the MIT Museum Collection, which is available for purchase online. Our functions business served 45 clients this year including MIT groups as well as outside corporate clients.


Gary Van Zante joined our staff in September as curator of architecture and design. He also has responsibility for developing and overseeing new exhibitions for the Wolk Gallery in the School of Architecture and Planning. Cate MacKinnon, a gracious and dedicated staff member who worked in visitor services for seven years, resigned in September. Dave Webber was hired in February to succeed her.

Jack Curtis, Public Relations and Marketing
Debbie Douglas, Curator, Science and Technology Collections
Kurt Hasselbalch, Curator, Hart Nautical Collections
Mary Leen, Acting Director
Jenny O'Neill, Collections Assistant
Beryl Rosenthal, Director, Exhibitions and Public Programs
Gary Van Zante, Curator, Architecture and Design
Joan Whitlow, Registrar and Collections Manager

More information about the MIT Museum can be found on the web at,


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