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MIT prepares for its 150th anniversary

For 150 days in 2011, the Institute will celebrate ‘many different MITs’ as it honors its past and imagines its future.
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Starting next month, and lasting for 150 days throughout the spring, MIT will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding through a series of events, programs and performances.

Running from Jan. 7 through June 5, the sesquicentennial celebration is meant to honor MIT’s achievements in research, innovation and education while also serving as a time to reflect on how the Institute today is approaching the frontiers of research and the world’s most pressing problems.

“In inventing MIT, William Barton Rogers gave the world a model for an innovation machine,” said President Susan Hockfield. “That machine has gained in power over the 150 years since our founder created it. As we celebrate MIT's history, we also celebrate its present and its future, because we carry with us a legacy of research, invention and education that guides everything from our most fundamental discoveries to our most ingenious applications.”

The celebration will feature a variety of academic programs and events that are expected to draw thousands to Cambridge and Boston. Most of the festivities are open to the public, and staff, students, faculty, alumni, friends and visitors are encouraged to participate either by attending the many events already organized or by planning their own celebrations.

“The anniversary celebrates not one, but many different MITs, each slightly different in our minds’ eyes,” said David Mindell, the Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing; professor of aeronautics and astronautics; director of MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society; and chair of the MIT150 Steering Committee. “People should be encouraged to celebrate the MIT that they know — whether it’s the MIT Sailing Club, an alumni group or a lab.”

Even those who aren’t able to make the trip to Cambridge and Boston can participate. Starting Jan. 7, the MIT150 website will host the “MIT150 Infinite History,” a highly searchable trove of videotaped interviews of more than 100 people — Institute leaders, faculty, alumni, staff and friends — who have made extraordinary contributions to their fields and to MIT. The site will also feature an interactive timeline that highlights the achievements of MIT and its people during its first 150 years.

“MIT exists because of its people,” said Gayle Gallagher, the sesquicentennial's senior director. “We invite faculty, staff, students, alumni and all our neighbors and friends to join in the celebration program — both to inspire, and to be inspired, during this special time in our history.”

150 days at MIT start at the MIT Museum

The festivities will begin on Friday, Jan. 7, with a reception for the MIT community at the MIT Museum, where a new exhibition showcasing 150 objects and stories unique to MIT’s culture will open. All items were selected and collected by members of the MIT community thanks to a collaborative process in which nominations were sought and votes tallied.

“The MIT150 Exhibition brings together a unique collection of 150 artifacts — many of them never seen in public before — that evoke the life and work of the Institute,” said John Durant, director of the MIT Museum. “If you’re interested in MIT, you can’t fail to be interested in the MIT150 Exhibition.”

Other notable events and programs include the Festival of Art, Science and Technology (FAST) to celebrate the intersection of those disciplines at the Institute, and the MIT Global Challenge, a public-service competition that will provide up to $25,000 to teams that present the best proposals for tackling a problem that affects the quality of human life or spirit.

The centerpiece of the sesquicentennial will be the Next Century Convocation ceremony held on MIT’s actual anniversary of April 10 — the day the governor of Massachusetts signed MIT’s charter in 1861 — in the Boston Convention and Events Center. The formal academic event will honor the scholarly achievements of MIT’s faculty and students. Invited speakers will discuss the “habits of mind” fostered by MIT research and education — integrity, diligence, service, social responsibility and creativity — while stressing MIT’s moral and social obligation not only to advance knowledge through research, but also to share it.

In answer to that call, the Institute will host a series of symposia throughout the spring that will bring together intellectual leaders to discuss a variety of topics. Each of the six symposia is expected to mark a pivotal moment in the intellectual history of its subject. The topics are: economics and finance; integrative cancer research; women in science and engineering; the age of computation; the exploration of Earth, air, ocean and space; and brains, minds and machines.

On April 30, the Institute will host an Open House for the first time in decades. Visitors from the public will be invited to explore MIT’s educational and research facilities to see where the daily work of MIT gets done. Through tours and demonstrations, the Open House is meant to emphasize the work of MIT’s students, some of whom intend to use the opportunity to spark the excitement of discovery in children and teenagers.

One of the final events of the five-month celebration will be the Commencement Exercises for the Class of 2011, which has been designated as MIT’s Sesquicentennial Class. Many members have been involved with planning the celebration since their arrival nearly four years ago.

"For the Class of 2011, the realization that we would be graduating on MIT's 150th anniversary came as a very pleasant surprise,” said Anshul Bhagi, president of the Class of 2011. “We are delighted and honored to be part of MIT's sesquicentennial celebration, for it marks an important time in MIT's lifetime of global impact and innovation. We look forward to the MIT150 festivities."

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