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Children learn the inner workings of a joystick-controlled robotic manipulator during a technology demonstration at the Stata Center during MIT’s Under The Dome open house celebration on Saturday afternoon. Approximately 20,000 attendees visited campus for the first open house in over 30 years, part of MIT’s 150th anniversary celebrations. For more photos of Under The Dome, see p. 11.
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To the outside world, MIT can be an intimidating place. Films like Good Will Hunting and 21 have portrayed the Institute as an exclusive — and sometimes snobbish — club of scientists and engineers. Last Saturday, MIT set out to change all that by hosting its first open house in more than 30 years, dubbed “Under the Dome.”

An estimated 20,000 visitors came to MIT for demonstrations, tours, and exhibits hosted by MIT student groups, academic departments, and administrative divisions. From demonstrations of the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel (Building 17), to a UH 60 Black Hawk fly-in to Briggs Field, to the Baker House piano drop, MIT hosted 312 events in five hours. Children especially seemed to enjoy the day-long affair — and availed themselves of opportunities to climb campus artwork.

Still, not all of MIT was open. Labs which could not allow visitors inside opted to bring demonstrations to public spaces. Academic departments, student groups, and MIT divisions were asked to independently develop open house events, underscoring the largely de-centralized organizational process behind Under the Dome. Operations like information booths and security were, however, organized on the level of the entire campus.

David A. Mindell ’96, chair of the MIT150 Steering Committee, was pleased with the open house, noting that nothing like it has happened in recent MIT history. Since MIT’s last open house was over 30 years ago, Mindell said that the open house was “nothing anybody on campus had done before.” He said there were no significant security incidents.

Paul A. Lagacé ’78, open house co-chair, described the day as a “tremendous success.” He indicated that, despite the 30-year gap between MIT’s last open house and this one, the next open house might come sooner.

“Everybody is excited about the opportunity to do this again,” said Lagacé. “Expect to see this happening more often.”

Mindell echoed Lagacé’s sentiment. “We always knew that if [the open house] went well, it would be on the table to do on a more regular basis,” he said.

According to Elizabeth C. Young, also an open house co-chair, 105 students volunteered at least three hours to help with the event. In addition, 95 MIT staff members, not including those who worked with departments to host events, volunteered to staff information tents, said John M. McDonald, director of enterprise services. Information tents were located at three locations across campus.

Of the 20,000 visitors, Mindell said that — anecdotally — it seemed many visitors came from further than Boston and Cambridge, like the cities’ surrounding suburbs. MIT has collected more detailed information about open house visitors, which is not yet available.

On Saturday, families and children were ubiquitous. Mindell noted that “MIT and [President] Susan [J.] Hockfield are concerned about K-12 STEM education,” and that the open house was a way to make science and technology more accessible to grade school students.

MIT’s annual spring repairs and campus improvements happened on a “faster timescale” than they normally do in order to prepare for the open house, Lagacé said. Repairs to the Student Center steps were scheduled to be completed by last Saturday; in addition to re-pouring the steps, new handrails and benches have been added.

The open house coincided with the beginning of the Cambridge Science Festival, an annual week-long science and technology exposition hosted jointly by MIT, Cambridge City, and Harvard, among other institutions in the area.

The value of the open house, says Mindell, is not limited to visitors. “The feedback we keep getting is that there’s a great desire for people on campus to feel like they’re part of the larger Institute,” he noted.