The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, is a research and educational institution located in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

MIT is a world leader in science and technology, as well as in many other fields, including management, economics, linguistics, political science, and philosophy. Among its most prominent departments and schools are the Lincoln Laboratory, the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Media Lab, the Whitehead Institute and the Sloan School of Management.

MIT alumni and faculty include many prominent politicians, corporate executives, writers, astronauts, scientists and inventors. Fifty-nine current or former members of the MIT community have won the Nobel Prize.


In 1861, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts approved a charter for the incorporation of the "Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston Society of Natural History," submitted by William Barton Rogers, a distinguished natural scientist. This was an important first step toward establishing what Rogers hoped would become a new kind of independent educational institution relevant to an increasingly industrialized America. With the charter approved, Rogers began raising funds, developing a curriculum and appraising suitable real estate. His efforts were hampered by the Civil War, and as a result its first classes were held in rented space at the Mercantile Building in downtown Boston in 1865.

Construction on the first MIT building was completed in Boston's Back Bay in 1866. In the following years, it established a sterling reputation in the sciences and in engineering, but it also fell on hard financial times. These two factors made it a perfect fit in many peoples' eyes to merge with nearby Harvard University, which was flush with cash but much weaker in the sciences than it was in the liberal arts. Around 1900, a merger with Harvard was proposed, but was cancelled after protests from MIT's alumni. In 1916, MIT moved across the river to its present location in Cambridge.

MIT has been at least nominally coeducational since admitting Ellen Swallow Richards in 1870, if not earlier. For some years past, it has admitted slightly more women students than men.

MIT's prominence increased following World War II as the United States government began to fund projects at research universities with immediate or potential defense or national security applications (see Vannevar Bush, Lincoln Laboratory, and Charles Stark Draper Laboratory).

Throughout its history, MIT has focused on invention. An illustrative 1997 report showed that the aggregated revenues produced by companies founded by MIT and its graduates would make it the twenty-fourth largest economy in the world. In 2001, MIT announced that it planned to put course materials online as part of its OpenCourseWare project. The same year, president Charles Vest made history by being the first university official in the world to admit that his institution had severely restricted the career of women faculty members and researchers through sexist discrimination, and to make steps to redress the issue. In August 2004, Susan Hockfield, a molecular neurobiologist, was appointed as MIT's first female president. She took office as the Institute's 16th president on December 6, 2004.

Today, admission to MIT is extremely competitive, and it has been ranked by The Atlantic Monthly and other publications as the most selective university in the United States. Its alumni magazine, Technology Review, is one of the only alumni magazines in the world to be sold on newstands as a mass market periodical. According to US News, it is one of five universities in the United States to consistently receive the highest peer assessment ("prestige") score of 4.9/5.0, along with Harvard, Stanford, Yale and Princeton.


MIT's schools
MIT is organized into five schools which contain 27 academic departments:

School of Architecture and Planning: Architecture, Media Arts and Sciences, Urban Studies and Planning
School of Engineering: Aeronautics and Astronautics, Biological Engineering Division, Chemical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Engineering Systems Division, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, Ocean Engineering
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences: Anthropology, Comparative Media Studies, Economics, Foreign Languages and Literatures, History, Humanities, Linguistics and Philosophy, Literature, Music and Theatre Arts, Political Science, Science, Technology, and Society, Writing and Humanistic Studies
Alfred P. Sloan School of Management
School of Science: Biology, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Chemistry, Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Mathematics, Physics

Other MIT labs and groups

MIT also has many laboratories, centers and programs which cut across disparate disciplines. These include:

  • MIT Media Lab
  • Lincoln Laboratory
  • MIT Entrepreneurship Center
  • MIT Center for eBusiness
  • Experimental Study Group
  • Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
  • The Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems
  • Radiation Lab
  • Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation
  • Educational Studies Program
  • Center for Cancer Research
  • Francis Bitter Magnet Lab
  • Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies
  • McGovern Institute for Brain Research
  • Picower Center for Learning and Memory
  • Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
  • Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

External relationships

MIT has close ties to a number of institutions. The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, now an independent defense contractor, was founded as the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, and still shares some facilities and faculty with MIT. (The Draper Lab, which designed missile guidance systems, was spun off during the Vietnam War to assuage antiwar feeling on campus and in the city of Cambridge, while holding on to the more lucrative defense contracts at Lincoln Laboratory.) The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution runs its graduate program jointly with MIT.

An example of cooperation, "The Coop" is the official bookstore of both institutionsMIT has a friendly rivalry with Harvard University which dates back to the earliest days of the Institute, and the aforementioned merger talks between the two schools. Today, they cooperate as much as they compete, with many joint conferences and programs, including the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, the Broad Institute, and the Harvard-MIT Data Center. In addition, students at the two schools can cross-register (i.e., MIT students can register for courses offered at Harvard, and vice versa) without any additional fees, for credits toward their own school's degrees. Another cross-registration program exists between MIT and Wellesley College, a renowned women's college in suburban Wellesley, MA. The city of Cambridge is notable for the presence of two major research universities within two miles of each other. A third major research university, Boston University, is located between MIT and Harvard on the Boston side of the Charles River. These three schools jointly run the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology.

MIT maintains an undergraduate exchange program with the University of Cambridge in England, and a partnership known as the Cambridge-MIT Institute, which was established to bring the entrepreneurial spirit of MIT to Britain and to increase knowledge exchange between universities and industry. MIT also has close but informal ties with one of Britain's top engineering universities, the University of Southampton, which has its own thriving collection of spin-off businesses.

MIT has also set up relationships with the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore known as the Singapore-MIT alliance. This has enabled it to take quality engineering education to a higher number of students. In 2004, MIT setup the MIT-Zaragoza Logistics Program modelled on its own masters degree in logistics. The MIT-Zaragoza program was set up with the local government of Aragon, University of Zaragoza and MIT and hopes to bring quality education in logistics and supply chain management to Europe.

Culture and student life

MIT notes that it has never awarded an honorary degree, and that the only way to receive an MIT diploma is to earn it. In addition, it does not award athletic scholarships, ad eundem degrees, or Latin honors upon graduation — the philosophy is that the honor is in being an MIT graduate. MIT faculty and students pride themselves on pure intellectual ability and achievement, and while grade inflation has run rampant at other elite colleges, MIT professors often say that they grade with "all the letters of the alphabet". Due to these academic pressures, MIT culture is characterized by a love-hate relationship. The informal motto of the school is IHTFP ("I hate this fucking place," although some jocularly render it as "I have truly found paradise", or "Institute Has The Finest Professors"). The wide acceptance of this motto is shown by its (inconspicuous) incorporation in the design of the class ring of some graduating classes.

A plaque of George Eastman, founder of Kodak, whose nose displays a high polish from generations of MIT students who would rub it for good luck on the way to exams.In 1970, the then-Dean of Institute Relations, Benson R. Snyder, published The Hidden Curriculum, in which he argues that a mass of unstated assumptions and requirements dominates MIT students' lives and inhibits their ability to function creatively. Snyder contends that these unwritten regulations often outweigh the "formal curriculum"'s effect, and that the situation is not unique to MIT.

The school has a powerful anti-authoritarian ethos in which it is believed that one's social status should be determined by raw intellectual prowess rather than by social class or organizational position. Other beliefs that are strongly held by people within the school are that information should be widely disseminated and not held secret, and that truth is a matter of empirical reality rather than the result of popular belief or management directive. Many of the values of the Institute have influenced the hacker ethic. The term "hacker" and much of hacker culture originated at MIT, starting with the TMRC and MIT AI Lab in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Resident hackers have included Richard Stallman and professors Gerald Jay Sussman and Tom Knight. At MIT, however, the term "hack" has multiple meanings. "To hack" can mean to physically explore areas (often on-campus, but also off) that are generally off-limits such as rooftops and steam tunnels. "Hack" as a noun also means an elaborate practical joke (see the MIT Hack Gallery), and not just a clever technical feat. The best hacks are humorous technical feats. The most famous hacks have been the weather balloon saying "MIT" which popped up out of the ground on the 50 yard line at the Harvard / Yale Football Game, and The Great Dome Police Car Hack, where the body shell of a campus police car mysteriously appeared on the top of the almost inaccessible Great Dome one morning (complete with a dozen donuts). See also hack (technology slang) and roof and tunnel hacking.

MIT's particular strain of anti-authoritarianism has manifested itself in other forms. In 1977, two female students, juniors Susan Gilbert and Roxanne Ritchie, were disciplined for publishing an article on April 28 of that year in the "alternative" MIT campus weekly thursday. Entitled "Consumer Guide to MIT Men," the article was a sex survey of 36 men the two claimed to have slept with, and the men were rated according to their sexual performance: no stars ("a turkey"), one star ("recommended in emergencies only"), two stars ("mediocre but worth trying"), three stars ("a good lay"), and four stars ("a must fuck").

Gilbert and Ritchie had intended to turn the tables on the rating systems and facebooks men use for women, but their article led not only to disciplinary action taken against them, but also to a protest petition signed by 200 students, as well as condemnation by President Jerome B. Wiesner, who published a fierce criticism of the article. The weekly's Feature Editor and Editor-in-Chief were also disciplined for running the piece. [1]

MIT has a student athletics program offering 44 varsity-level sports. The Institute's sports teams are called the Engineers, their mascot since 1914 being a beaver, "nature's engineer". (Or sometimes: "The beaver is the engineer among animals—MIT students are the animals among engineers.") Lester Gardner, a member of the Class of 1898, provided the following justification: "The beaver not only typifies the Tech, but his habits are particularly our own. The beaver is noted for his engineering and mechanical skills and habits of industry. His habits are nocturnal. He does his best work in the dark." They participate in the NCAA's Division III, the New England Women and Men's Athletic Conference, the New England Football Conference, and NCAA's Division I and Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges (EARC) for crew. They fielded several dominant intercollegiate Tiddlywinks teams through 1980, winning national and world championships[2]. MIT teams have won or placed highly in national championships in pistol, track and field, cross country, crew, and water polo.

MIT has its own student-run radio station, WMBR.

The MIT Mystery Hunt is an annual puzzlehunt run on Martin Luther King Day weekend.

A hack done with the lights of Simmons HallUndergraduate life. The undergraduate dormitories tend to be extremely close-knit, and the Institute provides live-in graduate student tutors and faculty housemasters who have the dual role of both helping students and monitoring them for medical or health problems. Students are permitted to select their dorm and floor upon arrival on campus, and as a result diverse communities arise in living groups. Although many dorms contain a wide range of living options, the dorms east of Massachusetts Avenue are stereotypically more involved in countercultural activities. Random Hall, living up to its name, is on the north side of campus, and Bexley Hall, in ironic juxtaposition to its "far-out" culture, is located centrally. Many MIT students live in fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups; however, after the alcohol-related death of Scott Krueger in September 1997, MIT made several decisions that affected the lives of undergraduates in subsequent years, including the decision that all freshmen live in Institute housing beginning in 2002. Simmons Hall was built in 2003 as a response to the increased housing demand this decision brought about.

Brass Rat. Despite the disdain that many MIT graduates profess for academic tradition, a very large number of them proudly wear an MIT class ring, which is large, heavy, distinctive, and easily recognized from a considerable distance. Originally created in 1929, the ring's official name is the "Standard Technology Ring", but its colloquial name is far more well known—the "Brass Rat". The undergraduate ring design varies slightly from year to year to reflect the unique character of the MIT experience for that class but always features a three-piece design, with the MIT seal and the class year each appearing on a separate shank, flanking a massive bezel bearing an image of a beaver. Also, engraved inside the ring, on the opposite side of the bezel is a map of the main campus, known as the "Hacker's map". Another feature of the ring is the Cambridge skyline on the side atop the bezel, and the Boston skyline on the side below the bezel.

Undergraduate academics

There is a large amount of pressure in the classes, which have been characterized as "drinking from a fire hose" or "academic boot camp." Although the perceived pressure is high, the failure rate both from classes and the Institute as a whole, is low. The school's emphasis on technical excellence and information sharing results in a situation where faculty, upperclassmen, and fellow students are remarkably helpful even to newly arrived freshmen. This culture of helpfulness offsets the academic stress to a certain degree. Furthermore, students are not assigned letter grades in their first semester; instead, they are graded Pass/No Record. To allow the students to gradually adjust to regular grading, second semester is ABC/No Record. For both semesters, classes that a student fails are noted on the internal transcript but erased from all external records. (Prior to the 2002-03 academic year, both terms were graded Pass/No Record.)

Majors are numbered; for example, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is Course VI, while Mathematics is Course XVIII. Students will typically refer to their major by the course number, saying "he's Course Eighteen" rather than "he's a math major." Subjects within each course also have numeric identifications, which most students use more frequently than the written names; the course number is given with an Arabic numeral, then a decimal point, and a subject number. This pattern differs from that of many U. S. universities; the course which many universities would designate as "Physics 101" is, at MIT, "8.01."

Course requirements

All students are required to take a variety of courses (called the General Institute Requirements, or GIRs) beyond those required for their major. These include two terms of physics (8.01 and 8.02), a term each of biology and chemistry, two terms of calculus (18.01 and 18.02), as well as eight terms of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS). The HASS requirements are intricately constructed: students must take three "distribution" or "HASS-D" classes, which are designed so that they give broad subject overviews with little or no prerequisites. HASS-D classes, many of which are offered by department 21, are divided into several numbered categories, and students are required to take HASS-D courses in at least three separate categories. Furthermore, students must choose a "concentration" among the HASS subdepartments (which are not the same as the numeric HASS-D categories). One might concentrate in literature, for example, or in music or a foreign language. Concentrations typically require three or four classes within that subject.

Those students who graduated earlier than the Class of 2005 had a writing requirement which was divided between "Phase I" and "Phase II". A Phase II paper typically involved researching a topic in one's field of interest and writing about it in a suitable style for a textbook or a journal article. More recent graduating classes have exchanged this procedure for the "Communication Intensive" system. Students are required to take two "CI" classes within their chosen major ("CI-M" courses). These classes are chosen by the department to instruct the students in the forms of communication used in that field. (For example, in Course 8, the CI-M classes are 8.13, the first semester of the physics laboratory class, where one learns to write papers and give technical presentations on experiments; and 8.06, the third term of quantum mechanics, where students choose topics not covered in the main coursework, research them in the scientific literature, and write a paper on the topic their classmates can understand.) In addition to the CI-Ms, students are required to take two CI classes outside their major, chosen from the HASS departments. Many HASS-Ds are also HASS-CIs, but certainly not all.

The General Institute Requirements, and in particular the HASS arrangements, have drawn ire and criticism from some quarters. In the spring of 2005, a student-operated advisory committee was formed to address the merits of changing the GIR curricula. The committee's initial report stressed the need to simplify the HASS system in particular. Blog-based discussions brought student input on the initial report, but the committee did not substantially revise their paper, deciding instead to include an addendum with students' opinions that had been expressed online.

Class structure

Most of the science and engineering classes follow a standard pattern. Typically, a professor gives a lecture that explains a concept. Then, teaching assistants lead recitations to explore fuller details, or often to provide students help on homework problems. Problem sets (colloquially known as "psets"), given roughly weekly, are designed to enable the student to master the concept. Students often gather in informal groups to solve the problem sets, and it is within these groups that much of the actual learning takes place. Over time, students compile "bibles," collections of problem set and examination questions and answers. They may be created over several years and are often handed down "from generation to generation"—bearing in mind that "generations" of student time may be short-lived.

These "bibles" were one issue addressed in Snyder's The Hidden Curriculum. After studying the behavior of MIT and Wellesley students, Snyder observed that the "bibles" are often in fact counterproductive: they fool professors into believing that their classes are acquiring knowledge as intended, and so both professors and students become locked into a feedback situation to the detriment of actual education.

In many classes, especially those beyond the introductory classes, the problem sets make up a relatively small fraction of the grade. The rest of the evaluation consists of performance on tests, which typically contain grueling problems that measure the students' ability to apply their knowledge, often to something not specifically covered in class. Problem sets and tests, even for the large introductory freshmen classes, are usually free response, hand graded, with much partial credit given to people who almost get the answer right. This is highly labor intensive, and after a test for a large class one can see a room full of teaching assistants and professors hand-grading the examinations.

The lack of machine grading and multiple-choice stems from the belief that understanding the concept is almost as important as getting the right answer. For example, students are seldom strongly penalized for making arithmetic mistakes, and partial credit tends to be generous. Tests often consist a small number of large problems which are subdivided into smaller steps. Test problems are intentionally extremely difficult and often clever, and are designed so that few students can obtain a perfect score. On the other hand, the assignment of grades reflects the difficulty, and most classes end with a grade distribution centered around B or C.

Although professors often use the average performance of a class to gauge the difficulty of an exam or a course, MIT policy does not permit grade cutoffs based purely on predetermined percentages or statistics (i.e., grading "on a curve"). This policy is intended, in part, to prevent a competitive atmosphere where the students want one another to do poorly in order to improve their own prospects.

MIT in popular culture

MIT has been part of the background of a number of movies including A Beautiful Mind (2001) and Good Will Hunting (1997). MIT's overall reputation has greater influence on its role in popular culture than does any particular aspect of its history or student lifestyle. Because the Institute is well-known as a breeding ground for technology and technologists, the makers of modern media are able to use it to establish character in a way that mainstream audiences can understand. Frequently, when a character in Hollywood cinema is required to have a science or engineering background, or in general possess an extremely high level of intelligence, the film establishes that he or she is an MIT graduate or associate. Characters will also often mention MIT in some fashion as a reference for someone's intellectual prowess.

On the other hand, some cinematic references to MIT betray a mild anti-intellectualism, or at least a lack of respect for "book learning". For example, Space Cowboys (2000) features the seasoned hero (Clint Eastwood) trying to explain a piece of antiquated spacecraft technology to a rather whippersnapping youngster. When the young astronaut fails to comprehend Eastwood's explanation, he snaps that "I have two master's degrees from MIT", to which Eastwood replies, "Maybe you should get your money back." Similarly, Gus van Sant's introduction to the published Good Will Hunting screenplay suggests that the lead character's animosity towards official MIT academia reflects a class struggle: Will Hunting is a member of the Irish underclass, while the MIT faculty is the new "English aristocracy" (a metaphor, since Stellan Skarsgård is clearly not playing an Englishman).

Bill Amend's FoxTrot has also made MIT allusions, in keeping with the strip's genial satire of nerd subcultures. In a similar vein, the song "Etoh" by the electronic music group The Avalanches describes MIT as "the home of complicated computers which speak a mechanical language all their own".

Novels by Ben Bova, Maxwell Griffith and Kurt Vonnegut have all included MIT settings.


MIT buildings all have a number and most have a name as well. Typically, academic and office buildings are referred to only by number while residence halls are referred to by name. A network of underground tunnels connects many of the buildings, providing protection from the Cambridge weather. Students agree that this maze is a welcome feature, enabling them to get from class to class without getting cold or wet. The bridge closest to MIT is the Harvard Bridge. It is the longest bridge crossing the Charles River. The bridge is marked off in the fanciful unit called the Smoot: 364.4 Smoots and One Ear. The Kendall MBTA Red Line station is located on the far northeastern edge of the campus. The neighborhood of MIT is a mixture of high tech companies seeded by MIT alumni combined with residential neighborhoods of Cambridge (see Kendall Square).

Early constructions

The most striking part of the campus is Killian Court, also known as the Great Court, in front of the Great Dome, where commencement is held (as well as the annual J. Edgar Hoover Memorial Celebration on May 2, for several years following his death on May 2, 1972), but most of the campus contains a jumble of different architectural styles which many accuse of lacking elegance. A few other buildings are architecturally significant, including Baker House (the dormitory designed by Alvar Aalto) and Eero Saarinen's Kresge Auditorium. The first buildings constructed on the Cambridge campus are known officially as the Maclaurin buildings, completed in 1916, after Institute president Richard Maclaurin who oversaw their construction; they surround Killian Court on three sides. On one side of Killian Court is the Infinite Corridor, which serves as something of a main artery for the campus, connecting east campus with west campus. The Infinite Corridor runs through two domes: the Great Dome, which is featured in most publicity shots, and the lesser dome (surmounting what is known as "Lobby 7" after its building number), which opens into Massachusetts Avenue, and which is the entrance most often used as well as the official address of the Institute as a whole. The Star Trek episode "Bread and Circuses" uses a shot of the Great Dome to depict a generic building on a planet dominated by ancient Roman culture.

Frieze on Building 2 dedicated to NewtonThe Maclaurin buildings, in many ways the public "entrance" of MIT, were designed by Welles Bosworth based on plans developed by wealthy alumnus and hydraulic engineer John Ripley Freeman. Bosworth's design was drawn so as to admit large amounts of light through exceptionally large windows on the first and second floors, many internal windows—not only on office doors but above door-level, and skylights over huge stairwells. The interior decor of the Maclaurin buildings is stylistically consistent throughout. Its major architectural features are the Infinite Corridor, an impressive central dome, and the expansive domed lobby at the main 77 Massachusetts Ave. entrance. The friezes of these buildings are carved in large Roman letters with the names of Aristotle, Newton, Franklin, Pasteur, Lavoisier, Faraday, Archimedes, da Vinci, Darwin, and Copernicus; each of these names is surmounted by a cluster of appropriately related names in smaller letters. Lavoisier, for example, is placed in the company of Boyle, Cavendish, Priestley, Dalton, Gay Lussac, Berzelius, Woehler, Liebig, Bunsen, Mendelejeff [sic], Perkin, and van't Hoff.

I. M. Pei '40 designed a number of MIT buildings constructed in this period, including the Green Building (Building 54), headquarters of the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science Department and the tallest building on campus; Building 66, the Chemical Engineering Department; and the Weisner Building (Building E15), the Media Laboratory, whose tiled exterior was designed by Kenneth Noland.

Recent building efforts

A major building effort has been underway for several years (as of 2005), including the Simmons Hall dormitory (designed by Steven Holl), the Zesiger sports and fitness center, and a new home for the Picower Center for Learning and Memory, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research (designed by Charles Correa).

The Frank Gehry-designed Stata Center opened in March, 2004. Boston Globe architecture columnist Robert Campbell wrote a glowing appraisal of the building on April 25th. According to Campbell, "the Stata is always going to look unfinished. It also looks as if it's about to collapse. Columns tilt at scary angles. Walls teeter, swerve, and collide in random curves and angles. Materials change wherever you look: brick, mirror-surface steel, brushed aluminum, brightly colored paint, corrugated metal. Everything looks improvised, as if thrown up at the last moment. That's the point. The Stata's appearance is a metaphor for the freedom, daring, and creativity of the research that's supposed to occur inside it." Campbell stated that the cost overruns and delays in completion of the Stata Center are of no more importance than similar problems associated with the building of St. Paul's Cathedral. The 2005 Kaplan/Newsweek guide "How to Get into College", which lists twenty-five universities its editors consider notable in some respect, recognizes MIT as having the "hottest architecture", placing most of its emphasis on the Stata Center.

The building of the Stata Center necessitated the removal of the much-beloved Building 20 in 1998. Building 20 was erected hastily during World War II as a temporary building that housed the historic Radiation Laboratory. Over the course of fifty-five years, its "temporary" nature allowed research groups to have more space, and to make more creative use of that space, than was possible in more respectable buildings. Simson Garfinkel quoted Professor Jerome Y. Lettvin as saying "You might regard it as the womb of the Institute. It is kind of messy, but by God it is procreative!"