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MIT's Building 20: The Magical Incubator

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.--"The Magical Incubator," a day-long celebration to honor the people and achievements of the past 55 years in MIT's Building 20, will be held in the EG&G Education Center (Building 34) on March 27.

Building 20 was built during World War II to house the Radiation Laboratory. Since then, occupants of its barracks-shaped warren of offices and labs have included the Acoustics Lab, the Guided Missiles Program, the Ice Research Lab, the Plastics Research Lab, the Research Laboratory of Electronics, and the Cambridge Partnership for Public Education.

Building 20 is slated for demolition in the summer of 1998. It is to be replaced by a new center for computation, information, and intelligence sciences at MIT.

The morning session of "The Magical Incubator," beginning with comments by Provost Joel Moses, will include talks by moderator Paul L. Penfield, Jr. (SB '60), head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Theodore Saad (SB '41), former staff member at the Radiation Laboratory; Walter E. Morrow Jr. (SB '49), retiring director of Lincoln Laboratory; Peter Elias (SB '44), professor emeritus of electrical engineering; and Rainer Weiss (SB '55), professor of physics.

The afternoon session will be moderated by Assistant Professor Gill Pratt (SB '83) of EECS. Speakers will include Jerome V. Lettvin (SB '47), professor emeritus of electrical engineering and bioengineering; Institute Professor Emeritus Morris Halle, and Professor Robert P. Redwine of physics.

In addition, James D. Worden (SB '89), co-founder and CEO of Solectria Corp., will speak about MIT's Solar Electric Vehicle Club, and Alan Kotok (SB '62), associate chairman of the World Wide Web Consortium, will discuss the Tech Model Railroad Club. Both clubs were headquartered in Building 20. Farewell walk-throughs of the building will be offered during the day.

The day's events will be followed by a dinner in honor of Maria and Ray Stata (SB '57), founder and chairman of Analog Devices, Inc. A new complex of buildings devoted to intelligence sciences will be built on the site and named for the Statas.


Back in the heady World War II victory days, Building 20 also served as a "magical incubator" for some playful wit as well as accomplishments in science and engineering. Below are samples from musical theater productions created by and for the Radiation Laboratory and its far-reaching community.

The refrain for "Placement," written in 1945, portrayed the Radiation Laboratory placing its personnel in new nonmilitary jobs:

Whatcha gonna do now the war is won?
Now we've set the rising sun?
How you gonna feed your wife and kids?
How you gonna keep them off the skids?

"How Nice to Be a Physicist," commissioned for the RadLab reunion held in Washington in 1947, adds a note of irony:

How nice to be a physicist in 1947,
To hold finance in less esteem than Molotov does Bevin,
To shun the importuning men with treasure who would lend it,
To think of money only when you wonder how to spend it ...

Oh, research is long, and time is short
If you find a fact essential
Classify it confidential
Never give a second thought
The FBI's approval must be sought.

A complete program is available online at Reminiscences of life inside the "magical incubator" can also be found at that web site.

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