In the distant future, the 20th century may be best remembered as the time that human beings set foot on the moon. The discovery of that new world depended on guidance — inertial and otherwise — from MIT, and as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of our Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the moon landing stands as one of many departmental milestones that speak to MIT’s signature combination of boldness, rigor, and disregard for the status quo.
For example, in 1896, to study the effects of air movement on different surfaces, mechanical engineering student Albert Wells attached a tube to a campus ventilation system and created MIT’s first wind tunnel — six years before the Wright brothers’ famous flight. And in 1914, the first lab of any kind on MIT’s then-new Cambridge campus was the prototype “aeronautical lab,” constructed under the direction of Professor Jerome Hunsaker. He went on to found MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and taught the world’s first courses in aeronautical engineering. By 1959, the department had grown to include the burgeoning field of astronautics, and since then has produced a community of alumni who have collectively logged more than 10,000 hours in space and taken part in more than one-third of all US space flights.
In true MIT fashion, we see the department’s centennial as an opportunity to envision the future. And as this issue of SPECTRVM makes clear, this focus on the future radiates through every field and discipline. From Peter Reddien’s work in regeneration of body parts, to Edward Boyden’s research in the repair of brain circuitry, to the steps Sanjay Sarma is taking to advance our educational principles in an increasingly digital world, MIT remains a community of pioneers.
The MIT campus pulses with an enthusiasm for discovery. Whether searching for answers to new problems or finding new ways to approach old ones, MIT remains a place of new beginnings. We are pleased to take this opportunity to celebrate the impact MIT has had on society, but our passion springs from considering the possibilities that lie ahead.
L. Rafael Reif