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EECS celebrates 100 years of glory

The Whirlwind I operational control center, replacing its analog system predecessors, was used in the early 1950s for mathematical research and studying engineering problems.
The Whirlwind I operational control center, replacing its analog system predecessors, was used in the early 1950s for mathematical research and studying engineering problems.
Photo courtesy / MIT Museum

There is much to celebrate as the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) observes its 100th anniversary with two days of festivities on May 23-24.

The department has played a role in many of the technological breakthroughs--from the telegraph to e-mail, Alexander Graham Bell's first telephone to cell phones and nanotechnology, crystal radios to HDTV, electric substations to radar and microwaves.

The Department of Electrical Engineering was created in 1902, following 20 years in which the discipline was housed in the Department of Physics. Computer science was added in 1974.

The faculty has included many of the legendary figures of scientific innovation, among them Vannever Bush, Harold Hazen, Harold Edgerton, Lan Chu, Ernst Guillemin, Arthur von Hippel and Claude Shannon.

The department has spawned many innovations and companies through it alumni, staff and faculty. It also spawned the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Laboratory for Computer Science, the Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems, the Research Laboratory of Electronics, the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems and the Microsystems Technologies Laboratories.

EECS, traditionally the Institute's most popular department, has 993 undergraduate majors, including 253 women. In addition, there are 236 M.Eng. students (54 of them women) and 664 candidates for the S.M., Sc.D. or Ph.D. (123 of them women).

Dugald Jackson, the third head of electrical engineering, was known as "the great department builder." From 1908-35, he guided the department through an era when the field moved to center stage in society as power grids crossed state lines and began to form a national network. He started an internship program in 1917 and presided over a major revision of the curriculum, dictated by the revolution in radio and electronics.

Gordon Brown, who joined the department during the Jackson era, guided a revision of the undergraduate program toward a melding of science and engineering that broadened the field dramatically. During his tenure as department head from 1952-59, after which he became dean of engineering, colleagues at other universities were given access to MIT's curriculum. This philosophy endures in OpenCourseWare, among other ongoing projects.

The decision to combine electrical engineering and computer science was reached after much discussion of having separate departments. The argument for consolidation was based on the assumption that computer hardware and software and electrical systems were so closely related that they would eventually become a single discipline. In a 1974 poll conducted by Professor Joel Moses, the faculty voted for a single department. Moses headed the department from 1981-89 and went on to serve as dean of engineering and provost.

On May 23, EECS will host an all-day symposium highlighting its history, current research and an educated vision of the future. On May 24, the agenda includes laboratory tours and demonstrations, a closer look at the progress of the Stata Center building project and presentations by faculty members. For a complete schedule, see

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 21, 2003.

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