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Newest 'brass rat' shows modern design flair

The top of the "brass rat" (left) for the Class of 2002 has many subtle design elements, while the traditional MIT seal (center) has undergone some changes on the side of the ring (right).
The top of the "brass rat" (left) for the Class of 2002 has many subtle design elements, while the traditional MIT seal (center) has undergone some changes on the side of the ring (right).

The recently unveiled "brass rat" (class ring) for the Class of 2002 has attracted a good deal of attention for its innovative design elements, some of which show a sense of humor and acknowledgment of "issues representative of the day," said Faisal Reza, a sophomore in electrical engineering and computer science. and chair of the ring committee.

For example, on one side of the ring, an up-to-date couple has replaced the classical depictions of scholar and blacksmith on MIT's familiar "mens et manus" seal. The blacksmith has traded his hammer for a picket sign, "just as many students have put down their books to stand up for their beliefs," the ring brochure explains.

The scholar is now a woman and is holding a laptop rather than books, recognizing new technology for learning now available to students. A podium still holds the traditional stack of books, though the lamp has been redrawn to resemble the May 1999 hack that transformed the Great Dome into the Star Wars robot R2D2 -- a nod to "one of the greatest unofficial traditions of MIT."

Seeing all the images and topical messages on the ring requires a keen and discerning eye; some are "fairly hidden," Mr. Reza noted. "It's a ring of transitions," but also one in which the committee strove to retain many traditional elements of the brass rat.

The flat top of the ring shows the Institute mascot beaver grasping a branch that it's carving into a diploma. The beaver's other paw releases four droplets of water, representing the students' four years at MIT. The drops make ripples in a pool (the outside environment) containing four leaves shaped like four of the continents.

Around the beaver is its dam, which has a broken portion symbolizing "the changes that have occurred and will continue to occur in our environment at MIT," according to the brochure written by the ring committee. An Athena owl atop the dam "questions the wisdom of these changes," while hidden in the sticks of the dam are the letters "IHTFP."

The other shank shows Buildings 7, 10 and 54 -- with foliage in Killian Court spelling out "punt." The front and back edges of the ring depict the Boston and Cambridge skylines, and the inside of the ring has a simplified campus map.

The design and elaborate premiere earlier this month were the result of nine months of work by the committee. Members solicited ideas from classmates, visited the MIT Museum to view earlier designs and worked with artists from Austin, TX-based ArtCarved College Jewelry to come up with the new ring.

Students who ordered rings will receive them at another gala occasion, a May 6 delivery event on Killian Court that will also include a harbor cruise. It seemed only right to hold it there, exactly halfway in time between the class' other two important events in the same location -- Orientation and Commencement, Mr. Reza said.

To see rotating views of the new brass rat, see the Class of 2002 Ring web site.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 15, 2000.

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