MIT Museum


of an Exhibition

by Rosario Ubiera-Minaya

Published on December 31, 2010

  • Description:

    This December, I armed myself with courage (and winter wear!) and reluctantly drove (a day after a blizzard), from Salem to Cambridge, Massachusetts in the search of a medium size exhibit that I didn’t know anything about. I wanted to see something new and different and decided to go to the MIT Museum. I admit it! I don’t consider myself “a science person.” My comfort zone can be more easily found in a small art gallery. This is narrative about my visit to this small museum.

    After finding a metered parking right in front of the museum, I put in one hour’s worth in quarters. I figured that was enough time to quickly browse around this place.
    I was not impressed by the entrance, very store front like and not too appealing to the public passing by. It can be easily missed or mistaken by something else in the crowded world that is Massachusetts Ave.

    Inside the building, I was greeted by a very nice gentleman, assisting in the front/ cashier/admissions/information desk. No information on the exhibits or public programs was provided. I didn’t ask.

    I came with an open mind, but I was very skeptical about what I was going to see.
    The first thing I noticed was video games and computers… go figure. Predictable, I thought. Very close to the front entrance in a larger room that serves as the first gallery, there is a panel with information about MIT students teaming up with students from Singapore to create video games. I quickly glanced through it and although I appreciated the multicultural and multidisciplinary components of the project being described, video games are not really my thing; I decided to move on.

    Then, I started to notice similar panels scattered throughout the carpeted room; a room with a storefront window and mostly natural light. Some panels had questions in large font: What part of the brain process faces? Can a mechanical engineer help fight malaria? How can you create a battery from a virus? Can we make energy from water?

    Hummm… sounds interesting. What are they talking about? I want to know… These questions were posed in a series of tall, three dimensional panels, along with photographs, videos and interactives. Similar to those panels you find in fairs, these presented information on research projects by MIT professors and students. This was the Mark Epstein Innovation Gallery. In very simple label copy and in a concise manner, they explained innovative research being conducted in several topics. Each section acted as a mini exhibit. After minor reading, I learned how science is working in improving several areas from fighting diseases, to finding more affordable and efficient natural energy sources to understanding how the brain functions in patients with schizophrenia.

    After being intrigued by the initial gallery, I continued on…. A giant screen on the opposite wall showed a video of several students conducting similar research. This area was labeled MIT 360 Presentation Space and also serves as a public programs area. There was plenty of sitting all around in wheeled benches and you could clearly see the images on the screen from any angle you looked. I didn’t stop to watch the video that was playing, instead, my eyes caught about eight black and white photographs of Albert Einstein in the opposite wall. All the same size and pose; they seemed retouched in different areas. The label read: Hybrid Illusions and asked to take 10 steps backwards and look how the photos change. They suddenly become faces of other famous people including Marilyn Monroe. I couldn’t help to laugh when I saw them change. I was starting to have fun and wanted to see more.

    As I navigated through the first floor I noticed more seating in different areas of the gallery and limited label copy in most of the exhibits. Most of the information was presented through interactives such as computer stations with really interesting and engaging microsites. For example, in one of their ongoing exhibits titled Visionary Engineer, Harold Edgerton, you could view the digital collection and learn more about the life and achievements of this MIT professor and inventor by browsing the microsite in one of the 3 computer stations placed in the gallery along with a display of his artifacts and photographs.

    Then, a life size image of Bob Marley next to the big screen: What’s that doing there? As I was getting closer, I noticed it became more real, and even three dimensional, depending on the angle I looked at it, it looked as it was coming out of the frame. Wow! That’s so cool! I thought. Just a couple of days before, my husband was telling me that he read that in 5 years from now we all are going to have access to this kind of technology through our personal computers, and I remember thinking that I don’t even know what he was talking about. He was referring to holograms. I stared at it for a while. It was amazing! All the details were crystal clear: facial hair, the texture on his clothes, the shoes, the hands. How did they do that?

    After circling back to my starting point and passing through a very interesting museum store I proceeded to the stairs to the second floor. I couldn’t help to think how the look all around felt very futuristic but at the same time very inviting.

    On the second floor I was greeted by a small display based on the Polaroid Collection owned by MIT. This included a very recent black and white photograph of Lady Gaga taken with a rare 20×24” Polaroid camera. I was curious about the photo and Lady Gaga, of course… I stopped and looked for a while. Again, the details captured by the camera were so impressive. Even thought Lady Gaga was all glammed up for the shot and the close up accentuated her physical attributes it shows some of her flaws as well. It was refreshing for the fist time to see her as a human being and not just as a made up celebrity.

    Some of the galleries were under construction to reopen in January next year. On one wall a space with paper and markers for visitors to share their ideas on how robots could improve our lives. Great ideas posted by children and adults. After passing a very interesting exhibit on robots that takes you in a journey about the history and developments of artificial intelligence, I moved on in search of more holograms. I finally found a small gallery on the back titled Holography, the Light of Fantastic.
    This gallery features 23 holograms from the MIT holography collection, which I learned is the largest in the world and focuses on how these are applied to various fields such as art, medicine, engineering, and retail. The room was dark and confined and was divided into two sections by a one-meter square hologram of an architectural model that you could view from both sides of the room. This is an impressive demonstration of how physical spaces can be envisioned and realized in three dimensions before they become a reality.
    A single label explains what a hologram is and how they are made. It presents a simple graphic to illustrate the process.

    On another wall there were portraits of people and animals. The portrait of a dog was so life like that I wanted to reach out and touch him. On the opposite wall a portrait of a woman that smiles and blows kisses at you and follows you with her eyes as you move around the room.

    What an interesting experience. I came to the MIT museum thinking I was going to feel out of place and probably not able to understand most of the concepts presented. I was so wrong. I was not only able to learn about great things that are happening thanks to technology and science, but also I had fun while learning. I left with a new found appreciation and respect for science and great awareness about ongoing research taking place now. I’m thinking that I might have some “science blood” in me after all.

    After stopping at the shop and getting two toy robots for my kids, I rushed out when I noticed that I had been there for more than two hours! I prayed I didn’t get a ticket!

Latest Comments (1)

good review, Rosario

by Kathleen Mclean - January 02, 2011

I’ll be the folks at the MIT Museum will feel particularly pleased that you had such an engaging time. K

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