Let there be no doubt about it: The spirit of Rube Goldberg is alive and well at MIT.
The Cambridge Science Festival--billed as the first of its kind in the nation--started off quite literally with a bang Saturday at noon.
The bang was provided by a group of MIT undergrads who assembled an official "kickoff" contraption in the council chamber at Cambridge City Hall.
A capacity crowd, including many families with young children, packed into the room to witness the scene. Cambridge City Manager Bob Healey quipped, "I haven't seen a crowd this big in the council chamber since the end of rent control."
MIT President Susan Hockfield hailed it as "an absolutely great day" and stressed how "enormously excited" MIT is to be working with the City of Cambridge on the festival.
"I keep hearing this wonderful phrase, 'Cambridge is a science city'--I like that," she said. "We are really the epicenter of science and technology innovation today."
Referring to the children in the audience, she said, "I'm delighted to see all you young people, our future inventors and scientists, our future engineers."
The "contraption" took months of brainstorming and weeks of construction. The engineers had to reconcile, as one of them put it, "unbounded creativity with the construction materials readily available in a short period of time."
After a fanfare from the MIT Marching Band, playing in the upstairs gallery, and a countdown from Hockfield and John Durant, director of the MIT Museum, Sadie Scheffer '10 set the machinery in motion by stepping into a giant "hamster wheel," eight feet across.
Within a few seconds, in the final phase of the contraption, an airbag had inflated, leading to the unfurling of the Cambridge Science Festival banner.
It worked--almost perfectly, with just a couple of quick assists from the engineers. As the photographers gathered to immortalize the contraption before it was disassembled, the engineers celebrated with hugs and high-fives all around.
The Cambridge Science Festival had been launched.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 25, 2007 (download PDF).