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Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is an independent 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. 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. 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. Among its important research laboratories are 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, the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and the Media Lab.

[[image:mitgreatdome.jpg|right|frame|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)]]

There are roughly four thousand undergraduates and six thousand graduate students at the university.

Table of contents
1 MIT culture
2 Activities and groups
3 Undergraduate academics
4 MIT and other institutions
5 Architecture
6 History
7 Sports
8 Criticism of MIT
9 Selected MIT departments
10 Distinguished professors now living
11 People associated with MIT
12 MIT OpenCourseWare
13 External links
14 Footnotes
15 References

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 "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.

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"). True to the school's engineering spirit, owners of the ring's stainless-steel version traditionally use it to open beer bottles.

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 of course 6.270, the autonomous robot design 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 VI, while Physics is Course VIII. 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 XXI). Classes are also generally referred 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 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.

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 fares 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 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 MIT Lincoln Laboratory.) The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution runs its graduate program jointly with MIT. MIT hosted the Lowell Institute School from its founding in 1903 through 1995, when it was closed as a result of budget cutbacks. MIT was a charter member, with other major Boston universities, in the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council, founder of public radio and television station WGBH, whose studios were located on the current site of the Stratton Student Center (W20) until they burned down in a 1963 fire.

MIT maintains a strong rivalry with Harvard and other Ivy League schools which dates back to the earliest days of the Institute, when a merger of the two schools was frequently mooted and at one point officially agreed upon (ultimately cancelled after a faculty and alumni rebellion in opposition to the plan). This history does not prevent the two schools from cooperating, and they operate a joint graduate program in health science and technology. Students at the two schools can cross-register (i.e., MIT students can register for courses offered at Harvard, and vice versa). 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).

MIT also has cross-registration with Wellesley College.

MIT has close ties with Britain's leading engineering university, the University of Southampton, and maintains an exchange program with the University of Cambridge 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.

Killian Court and surrounding buildings

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 significant, 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. While Baker and Kresge are almost universally loved by both architects and members of the MIT community in spite of their flaws, E15 proved quite controversial for both its exterior (derided by some as the "Pei Toilet" and the subject of numerous hacks) and its interior layout (panned for its large central atrium which detractors say isolates researchers from one another). As of 2004 the recently completed Stata Center (Building 32) is receiving glowing reviews from local architecture critics, though its interior layout has also met with some controversy.

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 Institute as a whole. Below the Great Dome in the Infinite Corridor is a war memorial in which MIT students who have lost their lives 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.

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.

Later buildings

The buildings built from the 1950s through 1970s have much less charm than the early ones, and cause much of the campus to have a jumble of architectural 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.

MIT alumnus I. M. Pei 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.

Building designations

Building locations on the MIT campus can generally be deduced from their numerical designation. The numbering system is centered around the original Maclaurin buildings, which have numbers ranging from 1 through 10. Other buildings on the original campus grounds have numbers ranging from 11 to 68. (The original campus grounds are bounded by the Boston & Albany railroad tracks on the north, Massachusetts Avenue on the west, the Charles River on the south, and Main and Ames Streets on the east.) Smaller groupings are evident within this area; for instance, buildings along Vassar Street are numbered in the 30's on the south side and in the 40's on the north side. Outside the original campus, letters denoting the cardinal direction from the Great Dome (W, NW, N, NE) are assigned, along with an arbitary number that rises within distance from the center of campus.

Building 20 and the Stata Center

dormitory, built in 2003]]
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 (Building 32) 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 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.

In a May, 2004 letter to the Boston Globe, however, Pandora Berman states that in the move, secretarial staff quarters have been downgraded from offices to cubicles; "The lab's graduate students, who used to share offices, have been dropped into amorphous space and offered high-school lockers as personal storage. No one has enough storage space or wall space... None of the ... amenities Campbell cites exist yet." One professor praised the classrooms but was unable to think of any other good features. And, Berman states, the roof leaks. On May 1st, Richard Stallman stated his strong objections, not to the building design, but to Stata's use of an RFID-based security system, threatening to leave MIT over the issue.


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. Of this bridge, Maxwell Griffith (see picture caption above) wrote: "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, in a flattering film about MIT entitled "Bridge to Tomorrow," presented the bridge in precisely that manner.

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". Its opening was delayed by the Civil War, and it opened in Boston 1867. Around 1900, a merger was proposed with Harvard University, but was cancelled after loud protests from the MIT alumni (see link below). 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.

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, and to make steps to redress the issue.


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

MIT's sports teams are called the Engineers, their mascot 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, and the New England Football Conference.

Criticism of MIT

During the turbulent 1990-2005 period, MIT faced growing criticism due to the following:

The Globe counted suicides among undergraduates between 1990 and 2001. Given that approximately 4,400 students are enrolled at MIT each year, this means that a total of approximately 48,000 student-years were examined. In that time, there were eleven suicides, which yields a rate of 22.7 per 100,000 (discrepancies between this number and the number reported in the previous paragraph are presumably due to more accurate counting by the Globe staff.) Because of small number statistics, the "true" suicide rate -- i.e., that which would be measured at a very large MIT with an infinite number of students -- is, to 95% confidence,

i.e., between about 9 and 36 suicides per year per 100,000 students; the estimate is so uncertain because of the very small number of suicides, and at this level, MIT's suicide rate is consistent with the national average. However, at 65% confidence, it is higher than the national average. It would take approximately another thirty three years in order to obtain a measurement of the MIT suicide rate that could be distinguished from the national average at 95% confidence.

Additional problems with the Globe's methodology are detailed in an article by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For example, the Globe neglected to take into account the elevated suicide risk in the general population for males and for students in technical disciplines, who comprise a larger portion of students in the Institute than in the general college population.

Selected MIT departments

Distinguished professors now living

A few distinguished members of the faculty have the title of Institute Professor. As of Spring, 2004, these include:

Institute Professors Emeriti include:

People associated with MIT

Former MIT students

Alumni with Nobel Prizes

Alumni astronauts

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


  1. See The Tech Editorial