The New MIT Museum

Some impressions from the new MIT museum. We had actually hoped to do the high-speed, multiple exposure imaging of water droplets and balloon popping to investigate fluid dynamics — something they had announced on their website as a drop-in activity available at their Learning Labs. We also wanted to try taking thermal selfies with their infrared camera, to see if Neva’s nose is indeed always a few degrees colder than the rest of her face. Unfortunately, because everything was new and the museum website didn’t yet reflect the actual agenda, we were in for a disappointment as those activities weren’t available at the time of our visit. The only thing running was the microscopes lab, which the kids didn’t care about. It was only later that we realized that those were no regular microscopes but electron microscopes, which is way cooler as they allow you to see the tiniest specimens!

Another thing we haven’t tried this visit was the GPT3 text generating model that you can try in the robotics and ai section. There is just one GPT3 -equipped desk you can sit at, so it makes sense to come back on a weekday when the museum is less crowded.

All right, so what have we tried and seen?

We quite liked the interactive visualization collecting your individual data and constructing a 3D character based on your answers. The character later joins thousands of other characters that dance on a huge screen that was actually no conventional screen but an LED matrix.

Both Neva and Simon also liked the kinetic sculptures by Arthur Ganson, on the intersection of art and engineering. Neva liked the ones moving because of air flows and Simon preferred the geared mechanisms resembling what he used to build with LEGO, inspired by the Brick Experiment Channel on YouTube. Simon especially liked the sculpture called Beholding the Big Bang, in which the motor drives a series gears designed to reduce its input speed such that it will take 13.7 billion years to turn the final gear in the train, once. 

Simon’s absolute favorite was a chain folding mechanism Machine with Roller Chain. He loved it so much because it shows how complex behavior emerges from something so simple.

The museum has a lot of original pieces by one of MIT’s most prominent graduates and faculty members, Claude Shannon. Shannon’s original ideas about using electrical switches to implement logic (Boolean algebra) have laid the foundation for all digital computers. His later ideas about information entropy as a measure of information content was how information theory was born. Shannon was an intellectual giant, comparable to Einstein and Turing, but the MIT Museum exposition emphasizes that first and foremost he was someone who was obsessed with play. No wonder the famous feature film about Shannon is called The Bit Player.

One of the pieces in the collection is Shannon’s 1950 Endgame chess machine, capable of managing up to sic chess pieces. On March 9, 1949, Shannon presented a paper called “Programming a Computer for playing Chess” that became one of the first articles published on the topic of programming a computer for playing/ solving a game.

Another game Shannon made, a strategy game called Red/Black.

By the way, Simon has tried to create the game of pong within the game of Baba Is You again and this time around, he said it was “a lot easier than expected”:

Back to the MIT museum. One more thing the kids liked was the staircase:

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