The Piano Drop is held — at least in theory — on the last day in which students can drop a class during spring semester. Denizens of Baker House drag an actual but non-working piano to the top of their six-story dormitory. Then they push off the piano and monitor its fall in an extremely precise, statistically monitored, highly educational way.
The Piano Drop led the list of about 400 objects nominated online in an open process for the MIT 150 Exhibition competition. This non-binding referendum is helping MIT Museum staff to select objects for the Institute's sesquicentennial exhibition, which will open at the Museum in January 2011.
The exhibition web site, http://museum.mit.edu/150, opened to the public for nominations last spring. Between Nov. 1 and Jan. 1, visitors were asked to vote for their 10 favorite nominations. With thousands of votes counted, the complete list of winners can be found at http://museum.mit.edu/150/results.
You can already see keys from a Piano Drop, along with artifacts for several other high-scoring nominations, on physical display at the Museum. Among the artifacts is the Class of 2011's Brass Rat ring, the only object already picked for the anniversary display.
Today, the Museum is holding a design workshop, the fourth in a series involving the MIT community in developing ideas for the exhibition. Participants are being treated to the "unveiling" of artifacts that relate to the winning nominations. In coming months, Museum staff will make the final curatorial decisions about what is featured and how in the physical exhibition. The virtual exhibition will remain open to all visitors on the web site, who can continue to nominate objects and tell stories about their experiences with MIT and more generally with engineering and science. Later this year, all will be able to submit stories orally via the web site and at the Museum.
The MIT 150 project already has been quite successful in collecting anecdotes and comments about objects such as the Piano Drop. The drop "is a combination of dorm spirit, harmless destructiveness, and the willingness to do something difficult just for the sake of doing it," as one alum remarked.
This combination gave the drop wide appeal in voting for MIT 150 exhibition objects. Also, it didn't hurt that Baker House alums organized a get-out-the-vote campaign on its behalf.
A similar campaign boosted the showing for the MIT Glass Lab, which placed a very respectable third. "I went to one of the MIT 150 design workshops, and I got really excited about what the MIT 150 Exhibition is planning to do," says Peter Houk, director of the Glass Lab.
"The Glass Lab encapsulates some of the really good values of MIT: working with tools, exploring hands-on and collaborating in teams in a productive way," Houk explains. "A large number of people are connected with the Glass Lab and proud of it. Sending out a request to vote for the MIT 150 nomination seemed like a good community-reinforcing act."
Community is what the MIT 150 Exhibition is about, says Deborah Douglas, the Museum's curator of science and technology. "In addition to showcasing the Institute's remarkable history, culture and achievements, the Exhibition has allowed us to run this innovative project in public engagement, which is very much in the MIT tradition," she says. "We're very pleased with results so far. It's a great start to a permanent online collection documenting MIT history!"
To learn more about the MIT 150 Exhibition, and to add your own MIT memories and opinions, please visit http://museum.mit.edu/150.