The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The
Edition of 1920. See also Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, The, was founded in 1865, at the close of the Civil War, when the need was beginning to be felt for schools which should train men to deal with the new industrial problems. It was the plan of President Rogers, and of his coworkers, to establish a school which should give a thoroughly practical training in the application of scientific principles to practice in the arts, but not primarily training in mere technics, in the narrow sense. Accordingly they planned that each of its courses should embrace enough general studies to impart the elements, at least, of a liberal education; and, above all, they laid down that the most truly practical training, even in an industrial sense, must be grounded in a thorough knowledge of scientific laws.

Founded on these principles, the Institute of Technology began a career of steady development. To-day it is the largest school of its class in the United States, the widest in scope of instruction and in many respects the best equipped. The total number of its students in 1916 was 1,900, the total number of instructors 300. The number of volumes in the library was 100,000. Though 60 per cent of the students come from Massachusetts, among the remainder are found residents of 46 States of the Union, and of 28 foreign countries. In all 48 classes have graduated, aggregating over 6,000 persons. Except in seasons of financial depression, the demand for these graduates is always in excess of the supply.

The undergraduate studies of the school are divided into 15 distinct courses, each of four years' duration, and leading to the degree of bachelor of science. These courses are as follows: Civil engineering, mechanical engineering, mining engineering and metallurgy, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, sanitary engineering, naval architecture and marine engineering, engineering administration, chemistry, electrochemistry, biology and public health, physics, geology, general science and architecture. Between the departments which maintain these several courses there is the closest connection and mutual support. Consequently the instruction is specialized to a degree which would be impossible in a smaller college, with a less numerous staff of instructors. Again, the instructors, though connected in a special sense with one department, are giving instruction, it may be, to students from many others. This mutual helpfulness of the departments is seen first in the fundamental subjects, such as chemistry in the first year and physics in the second, which are given to several courses or to all. It is seen again in the large number of optional lines of work offered. Within most of the regular courses the student is allowed considerable latitude of choice, in the later years of his study, and many thus select that group of studies which is best adapted to the particular branch of his profession for which he is preparing.

For 50 years from its establishment the institute occupied buildings on or near Boylston street in Boston. From the first structure built by President Rogers the number increased to nine, eight of which were devoted to technical instruction. The most interesting aspect of the equipment were the extensive laboratories. Many of them when first instituted represented an attempt to apply the laboratory method in a way up to that time unknown in the history of scientific instruction in this country. The laboratories of physics and of chemistry were the first to offer laboratory instruction in these subjects to students in large classes; and the mining and metallurgical laboratories, the steam laboratory and the laboratory for testing the strength of materials also represent a marked advance over previous methods, either in the subjects taught or in the scale on which the work is done.

Lack of space in which to expand in the congested business and residential section which grew up around it forced the Institute to seek a location adequate to its needs for constantly growing activities. It purchased in 1912 a plot of 50 acres in Cambridge, on the bank of the Charles River Basin facing Boston, and on 14 June 1916 the new Technology was dedicated. Ten acres are devoted to the educational buildings with an available floor space of 730,000 square feet. This easily doubles the area of the old buildings and still leaves room for growth to twice the present size.

The laboratories which were so excellent have been rearranged with greater space and some of them are the most remarkable in the country.

The boiler plant is itself a laboratory, with a capacity of 2,000 horse power, the boilers being of standard type with newest appliances. They are especially adapted to experiment. This powerhouse will care for the heating, lighting and motor force of the great buildings and is built on the lines of a big central station.

Steam is conveyed from the boilers to the steam laboratory in mechanical engineering through a subway seven feet square in section and the supply is carried in 20 and 10-inch pipes. The electrical equipment at the boilers includes three turbines directly connected to generators of 750 kilowatts, 500 kilowatts and 150 kilowatts, respectively, furnishing three phase current at 2,300 volts. In addition there are one 150-kilowatt turbine, two 150-kilowatt motor-generators furnishing direct current at 110 and 220 volts and two 35-kilowatt exciters.

The steam laboratory equipment includes a Curtis turbine of about 75 kilowatts capacity, a 38 horse-power Corliss with dynamometer, a 225 horse-power McEwan tandem compound, a compound and generator of the same make of 250 horse power, and a triple expansion Corliss, especially adapted for experimental purposes.

In the same laboratory there is a Brown engine driving a three-stage compressor which will work up to 2,500 pounds per square inch. There are other compressors and a great many small engines and models of different types.

The hydraulic laboratory is fitted with 700 feet of canals, some of them 40 feet cross section, with reservoirs, weirs, tanks and all kinds of measuring devices. Two pump wells 26 feet deep will serve for the testing of large pumps on a commercial scale. A pump of the capacity of 22,000 gallons a minute lifts water to the second floor above which is discharged through a canal of 25 feet cross section into a penstock for the testing of water wheels. Natural heads up to 35 feet and artificial heads of some hundreds of feet may here be used. The battery of pumps includes a Douglass triplex, a Gould triplex and a Davis triplex, a 150 horse-power turbine with direct connected centrifugal pump, a 100 horse-power Terry turbine, a three-phase Jeansville pump, two duplex pumps each of the capacity of an ordinary steam fire engine, and the great pump which is driven by an angle compound engine of 325 horse power.

The chemical laboratory is fitted with a central storage for rarer substances, special elevators for quick service within the department, electrical heating devices for the various processes and three systems of ventilation, the regular house system, the hood and a mushroom ventilator applied to every table. The laboratory has its electrical supply independent of the lighting or power systems of the buildings.

The aerodynamical laboratory is equipped with a four-foot blowing tunnel and an aerodynamical balance, a replica of that at Teddington, England. The electrical laboratory is somewhat better than the old Lowell laboratory, but the improvement has been of necessity in details and convenience.

The transmission laboratory is of unusual excellence. The equipment includes a 2,500 nautical mile, artificial cable, corresponding to a regular ocean cable; a 2,500-mile long-distance artificial aerial line corresponding to a long-distance trans-continental telephone line, two artificial power transmission lines of 800 miles and an artificial telephone subterranean line of 35 miles. Besides these items there is a span of power transmission, 150,000-volt capacity. For experiments with this a special laboratory has been built at the foot of one of the towers.

These are some of the new special equipments, but the other laboratories, notably those for testing materials, for industrial chemistry, for biology, etc., find themselves newly placed in improved surroundings with increased facilities and apparatus. The sewage laboratory, being located near one of the great outlets of the principal drainage of the metropolis, will not be moved.

With this unusual laboratory equipment, it has been possible for the Institute to do much of its experimental work on a scale approaching that of industrial operations. The laboratories of mining and metallurgy, for instance, are designed to treat ores in quantities approximating those used in actual practice, and ranging from 500 pounds to 3 tons, and the contributions to the literature of ore-dressing and metallurgy from this laboratory are well known. In the laboratory for testing the strength of materials, again, were conducted the first systematic and extended tests of beams of commercial size.

Throughout all the work of the Institute the aim of instruction is so to adjust the theoretical and experimental work that the acquirement of principles in the classroom shall prepare the student for his laboratory exercises, and that these in turn shall fix methods and results in his memory, and give him capacity for new experimentation. Throughout it is intended to guide the student rather than to instruct him, and, whether in the four-year courses above described or in the graduate courses with which these may be supplemented, he is trained to work with less and less dependence upon his teachers. This training should result in a considerable increase in his powers of ascertaining facts and overcoming difficulties, and so should increase his capacity for research.