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Historical Laboratory Rifle Stolen from Edgerton Center

By Stacey E. Blau
Editor in Chief

The rifle historically used for bullet photography in the Strobe Project Laboratory (6.163) has been missing from the Edgerton Center and is presumed stolen.

The gun, a .22-caliber single-shot bolt-action rifle, was reported missing earlier this month after its disappearance from a table-mount display in room 4-410, said Campus Police Captain John E. Driscoll.

The rifle has historically been a part of the Strobe Lab course for several decades, a class dealing with flash light sources and their applications to photography and measurement, said Professor of Ocean Engineering J. Kim Vandiver Ph.D. '75, the director of the Edgerton Center.

"One of the traditions of the class is that students get to take pictures of bullets" fired by the rifle, said Vandiver, who used the gun when he was a student in the class.

The loss of the rifle is taken seriously by Edgerton Center, where the gun has become a piece of history over the decades during which hundreds of students have used it for Strobe Lab, a class pioneered by Harold E. "Doc" Edgerton SM'27, Institute professor emeritus and father of the electronic flash.

Rifle likely stolen as souvenir

The rifle was in "inoperable condition" when it was stolen, Vandiver said. The key parts needed to make the gun capable of firing were locked away.

The fact that the rifle was not operable when it was stolen has led to suspicions that the gun was taken by someone aware of its historical value.

"You sort of hate to say it, but it seems like essentially a souvenir hunter," said Assistant Director of the Edgerton Center Charles H. Mazel SM '76, a research engineer in the Department of Ocean Engineering. "No self-respecting criminal would want that gun."

The rifle was "a great technical tool" used by students to fire bullets that would be photographed to determine things like the speed of the bullet or the momentum loss after the bullet passed through a book, Mazel said.

"Its value is not very great as a firearm," but it has great historical sense, Vandiver said.

Center experiences frequent thefts

The theft of the rifle is not the first such incident to occur for the Edgerton Center. There have been five thefts of objects belonging to the Edgerton Center over the past two years alone, Vandiver said.

Earlier this year, part of a strobe light was stolen from the roof of the Green Building, Vandiver said. "People take these things to come back and show them to their friends."

Such "trophy-hunt thefts" have become a serious problem, Vandiver said. The end result is that students and others are deprived of the use of the items.

"It's been a special problem" for the Edgerton Center because the center has so many items of great historical value, Mazel said. The thefts "really hurt the atmosphere."

Initial interviews have not turned up new leads, but Campus Police continue to search actively for the rifle, Driscoll said.

"We have circulated the serial number in a national database," so the gun will be instantly recognized should it fall into the hands of other law enforcement officials, he said.