• As part of the Massachusetts Summer of Innovation, NASA helped to fund the 2010 Engineering Design Workshop at the Edgerton Center. J. Kim Vandiver, at right, discusses projects with the high-school participants.

    As part of the Massachusetts Summer of Innovation, NASA helped to fund the 2010 Engineering Design Workshop at the Edgerton Center. J. Kim Vandiver, at right, discusses projects with the high-school participants.

    Photo: Ed Moriarty

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  • Amy Smith, MIT senior lecturer who created and runs the D-Lab series of courses and field trips, traveled to New Longoro, Ghana, as part of the D-Lab Development class IAP trip in January 2010. The team experimented with low-cost well-digging techniques. The goal was to learn whether this approach could be used to improve irrigation on farms as well as provide access to safe drinking water.

    Amy Smith, MIT senior lecturer who created and runs the D-Lab series of courses and field trips, traveled to New Longoro, Ghana, as part of the D-Lab Development class IAP trip in January 2010. The team experimented with low-cost well-digging techniques. The goal was to learn whether this approach could be used to improve irrigation on farms as well as provide access to safe drinking water.

    Photo courtesy of D-Lab

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  • Formula SAE team placed 16th out of 120 teams from around the world at the Formula SAE in Michigan in May of this year — its best performance in that competition to date — with its last internal combustion engine car. The team is now preparing for the Nebraska 2013 electric competition.

    Formula SAE team placed 16th out of 120 teams from around the world at the Formula SAE in Michigan in May of this year — its best performance in that competition to date — with its last internal combustion engine car. The team is now preparing for the Nebraska 2013 electric competition.

    Photo courtesy of Formula SAE

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  • Students in the Edgerton Center Engineering Design Workshop enhanced a motorized longboard by including running lights. Edgerton Center projects run the gamut, from home brew Segway look-alikes to hovercrafts. In the process students learn how to build something from their own idea to its final iteration.

    Students in the Edgerton Center Engineering Design Workshop enhanced a motorized longboard by including running lights. Edgerton Center projects run the gamut, from home brew Segway look-alikes to hovercrafts. In the process students learn how to build something from their own idea to its final iteration.

    Photo: Ed Moriarty

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  • Members of the Marine Robotics Team (MRT) and Edgerton Instructor Ed Moriarty traveled to Ketchikan, Alaska, in August for the first sea trials of their underwater glider. Long-term goals for this Chevron-funded project are to detect oil plumes and to study the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico. From left to right: Adrian Tanner, David Wise '14, Jacqueline Sly '14, Tommy Moriarty '14 and Edgerton Instructor Ed Moriarty '76.

    Members of the Marine Robotics Team (MRT) and Edgerton Instructor Ed Moriarty traveled to Ketchikan, Alaska, in August for the first sea trials of their underwater glider. Long-term goals for this Chevron-funded project are to detect oil plumes and to study the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico. From left to right: Adrian Tanner, David Wise '14, Jacqueline Sly '14, Tommy Moriarty '14 and Edgerton Instructor Ed Moriarty '76.

    Photo: Lisa Murkowski

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  • Dr. Jim Bales, assistant director at the Edgerton Center, explains how the strobe light captures the milk splash at the third annual Obscura Day where the community can explore unusual and fascinating places. Bales is the instructor for 6.163 Strobe Project Laboratory, the class that Doc Edgerton taught. Left to right: Dane Robinson, Sophie Streeter, Beatrix Metral, Felix Betral and Bales.

    Dr. Jim Bales, assistant director at the Edgerton Center, explains how the strobe light captures the milk splash at the third annual Obscura Day where the community can explore unusual and fascinating places. Bales is the instructor for 6.163 Strobe Project Laboratory, the class that Doc Edgerton taught. Left to right: Dane Robinson, Sophie Streeter, Beatrix Metral, Felix Betral and Bales.

    Photo: Alberta Chu

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  • An Indian woman tests the Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC) outside of Mumbai during the field trial in India. In 2007, Amos Winter SM '05 PhD '11, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, introduced the D-Lab class Wheelchair Design in Developing Countries (EC.721). In 2008, Winter and his team developed the LFC; its design has evolved with field trials in East Africa, Guatemala and India. GRIT, an organization that grew out of this project, is now piloting the manufacture and distribution of the LFC in India.

    An Indian woman tests the Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC) outside of Mumbai during the field trial in India. In 2007, Amos Winter SM '05 PhD '11, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, introduced the D-Lab class Wheelchair Design in Developing Countries (EC.721). In 2008, Winter and his team developed the LFC; its design has evolved with field trials in East Africa, Guatemala and India. GRIT, an organization that grew out of this project, is now piloting the manufacture and distribution of the LFC in India.

    Photo: Tish Scolnik

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  • Students in Grade 5 at the local elementary school participate in Quizboards, an activity in which students are introduced to the concepts of open and closed circuits and electrical components such as wire, resistors, LEDs and a battery. Annually, more than 3,000 students in the area participate in the Edgerton K-12 Outreach program. The 3-hour classes are free of charge and consist of 11 different activities emphasizing mechanical and electrical engineering, biology, chemistry and even forensics.

    Students in Grade 5 at the local elementary school participate in Quizboards, an activity in which students are introduced to the concepts of open and closed circuits and electrical components such as wire, resistors, LEDs and a battery. Annually, more than 3,000 students in the area participate in the Edgerton K-12 Outreach program. The 3-hour classes are free of charge and consist of 11 different activities emphasizing mechanical and electrical engineering, biology, chemistry and even forensics.

    Photo : Camilla Brinkman

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  • Before Edgerton Instructor Ed Moriarty, pictured here with his dog (and Edgerton mascot) Rookie, heads to the John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, he packs up his soldering irons, cutting tools, PVC pipes and electronic equipment. Since 2003, Moriarty has engaged with the O'Bryant School, helping to develop and sustain the school's 'Engineering Pathways' curriculum. Moriarty has inspired many young students and has guided five O'Bryant alums to, and through, MIT and other engineering schools such as Olin College and Boston University.

    Before Edgerton Instructor Ed Moriarty, pictured here with his dog (and Edgerton mascot) Rookie, heads to the John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, he packs up his soldering irons, cutting tools, PVC pipes and electronic equipment. Since 2003, Moriarty has engaged with the O'Bryant School, helping to develop and sustain the school's 'Engineering Pathways' curriculum. Moriarty has inspired many young students and has guided five O'Bryant alums to, and through, MIT and other engineering schools such as Olin College and Boston University.

    Photo courtesy of Ed Moriarty

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  • Anthony Wong, a graduate student in Course 2, turns a bushing in the lathe to be used is one of his experiments for his research based on hydrostatic bearings. The Student Shop provides training in the use of machine tools, access to them, and guidance in project planning. Students log more than 3,000 hours annually working on course and research-related projects. The mix of manual and state of the art computer controlled machines equipment recently underwent $15,000 in safety upgrades this past spring.

    Anthony Wong, a graduate student in Course 2, turns a bushing in the lathe to be used is one of his experiments for his research based on hydrostatic bearings. The Student Shop provides training in the use of machine tools, access to them, and guidance in project planning. Students log more than 3,000 hours annually working on course and research-related projects. The mix of manual and state of the art computer controlled machines equipment recently underwent $15,000 in safety upgrades this past spring.

    Photo: Mark Belanger

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  • Ninth-grade girls in the Edgerton Center's You GO Girl science and engineering program experimenting with strobe-light photography.

    Ninth-grade girls in the Edgerton Center's You GO Girl science and engineering program experimenting with strobe-light photography.

    Photo: Amy Fitzgerald

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The Edgerton Center turns 20

Ninth-grade girls in the Edgerton Center's You GO Girl science and engineering program experimenting with strobe-light photography.

Professor J. Kim Vandiver on the history and future of the Edgerton Center.


In August, the Edgerton Center celebrated 20 years of hands-on learning. The center was founded in 1992 to carry on the legacy of Professor Harold “Doc” Edgerton, an innovator and a beloved teacher who encouraged students to try out their ideas. Professor J. Kim Vandiver, who helped found the center, reflects on the impact the Edgerton Center has had over the past 20 years.

Q. How is the legacy of Doc Edgerton made visible today in the MIT Edgerton Center?

A. Harold “Doc” Edgerton died in 1990. His family and I wanted the new Edgerton Center to carry on Doc’s legacy — not only to highlight his many contributions to high-speed photography, but to continue to support future generations of MIT students in "Learning by Doing."

Doc began Strobe Alley (in the fourth floor of Building 4) by hanging up pictures on the wall — his and everyone else’s. Today, we have Strobe Alley with interactive displays that highlight engineering and scientific principles, Doc’s equipment and fascinating high-speed photos.

As a graduate student in the spring of 1972, I asked Doc if I could take 6.163 (Strobe Project Lab) because I really wanted to learn how to do high-speed photography. The course was the beginning of a really long and wonderful friendship. We still teach Strobe Project Lab, a course that enables MIT students to get involved in high-speed photography. And every year in June we teach a short course for professionals in high-speed photography that Doc began long before I was his teaching assistant in 1972.

Inside the doors to the center we have many ways of supporting students and their projects.

We have fabrication facilities in N-51 and in Building 44, we offer a broad selection of classes in International Development (D-Lab), digital electronics and fabrication, strobe imaging; we guide students on teams and we support them with UROPs.

Also, the Edgerton Digital Collections, completed in 2011, is a really nice presence that reminds us of what Doc’s contribution was. It’s an online archive that makes accessible to the public much of his work, including all of his famous high-speed still photographs, high-speed movies, 7,000 pages from his notebooks and 10,000 photographs he took of people and places throughout his career.

Q. In what ways does the Edgerton Center impact and improve education at MIT?

A. Well, Doc Edgerton himself used to say that you don’t learn much from your successes. It’s your failures that really teach you something useful. So in order to have failures you have to go out and try things. I think the core emphasis of the Edgerton Center is what I call "experiential learning" and that’s going out and trying things. The way we do it at the Edgerton Center is to give students opportunities to try things that they’re motivated about, things that they’re excited and interested in. We do that with students who want to build solar cars and Formula SAE race cars and underwater vehicles. We give students a chance and the resources so they can go out and do it themselves.

Over the course of 20 years we’ve accumulated more and more resources to help students. In the first decade of the center, we began by working informally with students supporting them in their clubs and teams, and providing basic machine shop and fabrication facilities. In our second decade we began engaging MIT students in thinking about improving the lives of people in the developing world. More than 10 years ago, Amy Smith, who was a graduate student at the time, came to me with an idea of teaching a subject called “Designs for the Developing World.” Shortly after that first subject, I hired Amy at the Edgerton Center and she began building D-Lab, which engages MIT students in solving real problems in the developing world.

Today, D-Lab is an important part of the educational landscape of MIT with 13 classes enrolling more than 200 students. We are providing project-based learning with real-world impact for students. It is especially attractive to female students and has made a significant impact in attracting women to engineering. I take real pride in knowing that the Edgerton Center has helped to make D-Lab a success.

One of the intangible accomplishments of the Edgerton Center is that we have helped to make MIT a very attractive place for high school students who are thinking about where they want to go to college. When they come here to visit I want them to stop in at our facilities in N51. My vision is that when they walk around and see solar cars, wheelchairs in D-lab that have been designed for use in the developing world and see cool things that are happening in the International Design Center (IDC) they’ll say I want to come here, I want to be here. That is a part of what we have contributed to education; we’ve opened a window onto MIT and inspired students to be inventors and innovators and designers.

Q. Building on the success of the last 20 years, what is your vision for the next 20 years of the Edgerton Center?

A. Now, and most exciting, in the last three years we’ve begun to consolidate these hands-on resources in the same building as the MIT Museum (N51 and N52). This is now a go-to place for hands-on student invention, design and fabrication and my vision or hope for that is that this space will become a real hotbed for students to do innovative hands-on work.

  • In February 2012, the International Design Center (IDC), part of the collaboration with the Singapore University for Technology and Design, opened its newly renovated space;
  • In June 2012, D-Lab moved into a newly renovated space;
  • Three years ago, the Edgerton Center’s student clubs and teams moved into workspace on the first floor;
  • The MIT Museum is an important partner in the building and the Gordon Engineering Leadership program is conducting some of its activities in the building as well.

In this one area we support MIT students who are designing things, building things, solving the world’s problems. We’ve put it all together and now we get to be part of the action in turning N51 and N52 into a really exciting place where students, staff and faculty work together designing, building and making important contributions.

D-Lab is 10 years old, but it is really just coming into its own now. It finally has an adequate space in the newly renovated building. In this shared space we’re going to have some of the best commercially available tools and equipment — including rapid prototyping technologies such as 3-D printing, laser-cutting machines and shop resources — that will benefit everyone, D-Lab, clubs and teams and the IDC. The D-Lab financial situation is becoming more stable through MIT financial support. It will be nice if D-Lab could become endowed sometime in the next few years.

The Edgerton Center has also been working on K-12 education for the past 15 years, primarily engaging with middle school teachers and kids in the Cambridge public schools and reaching out to the John D. O’Bryant School in Boston. We have our academic year program where teachers and their classes come to the Edgerton Center for three-hour hands-on science and engineering classes. We have summer programs and we are now engaged in exporting our curriculum to teachers and school systems in Massachusetts, Florida, Alaska and California. We support our curriculum with teacher professional development workshops hosted around the country. In the last eight years, we’ve also begun working on an approach to introduce engineering to the K-12 community through the work that Edgerton Instructor Ed Moriarty has been doing. If you stand back and look at what the Edgerton Center has done in K-12, you’d say “wow, that’s pretty neat.” We’ve really accomplished a lot.

Next, we would like to scale up and export our programs. I would like to see the Doc Edgerton model of "learning by doing" expanded through our programs to other parts of the country and inspire both K-12 and college students. Our model has had a significant impact on MIT and the world. I think Doc would be pleased.


Topics: 3 Questions, Edgerton, Education, teaching, academics, Faculty, K-12 education, Photography, Students, Volunteering, outreach, public service, D-Lab

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