Mother of Inventions

A museum of Holograms, Polaroids, robots, and pranks

mit2_0Photo: MIT Museum

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t may not look like much from the outside, but the MIT Museum has, among other things, the world’s largest collection of holograms, and art created using the electronic strobe, developed at MIT by the late Harold “Doc” Edgerton, known as “the man who stopped time.” The strobe light allows photographers to capture phenomena that are otherwise too fleeting to be seen, such as a bullet piercing an apple, a drop of milk falling on a flat surface, and a balloon as it pops. There are also moving sculptures, in the literal sense of the word, some of them operated by hand cranks, and artifacts from the collection of Polaroid, whose instant film and camera was invented nearby. Up the musical stairs are all kinds of robotic devices developed here. Admission is cheap, by Boston museum standards. And the science-themed gift shop is a geek’s delight.

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Who says MIT students don’t have a sense of humor? The school’s legacy of practical jokes is so rich, it’s part of the collection at the MIT Museum. The museum has (and periodically displays) the full-sized police car found one morning atop MIT’s signature dome with a box of doughnuts on the front seat; the “Nerd Crossing” sign that appeared one day on Massachusetts Avenue; a device once used to make it snow inside a dormitory; and the weather balloon that rose from the playing field during the 1982 Harvard-Yale football game. At the same game, unknowing Harvard fans raised placards they thought spelled out “Beat Yale,” but actually read: “MIT.”

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