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Blimps, 'bots and brain science: MIT throws an open house tomorrow to mark its 150th birthday

Posted by Scott Kirsner  April 29, 2011 12:56 PM

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I should know better, by now, than to ever suggest that there's anything students can't learn at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now marking its 150th birthday.

But when I wrote about an MIT spin-out, Altaeros Energies, earlier this month, I did just that, beginning the story thusly:

Graduates of MITís Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics learn lots about lift, aerodynamics, and rocket engines. But they donít learn how to launch and fly a blimp.

A few days later, we received an e-mail from William Litant at MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, explaining that that wasn't the case:

Freshman who take Introduction to Aerospace Engineering and Design use the knowledge they gain in the class to design, build, and race small blimps in our annual Lighter Than Air Design Competition. In fact, visitors, to MITís April 30 campus-wide open house will have a chance to see these blimps compete between 11 a.m. and noon in the Johnson Athletic Center.

I stand corrected (though the course Litant mentions is optional, and Altaeros' founders didn't take it.) And I suggest that you not miss MIT's open house this weekend, which includes dozens of different demonstrations and events. (The last campus-wide open house was held in 1980, so this isn't an annual kind of thing.)

Coinciding with MIT's open house is the Cambridge Science Festival, which runs from April 30th through May 8th.

Maybe we need to promote May as Nerd Mardi Gras here in Massachusetts, and start attracting brainy tourists from around the world?

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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