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MIT reopens oculus atop Great Dome

Posted by Brock Parker  February 15, 2013 03:04 PM

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MIT has reopened the skylight in the University's iconic Great Dome. Photo courtesy of L. Barry Hetherington

By Brock Parker, Town Correspondent

More than 70 years after it was concealed as a wartime protective measure, the oculus atop MIT’s Great Dome is once again seeing the light of day.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced Friday that it has completed the new oculus, or skylight, in the dome of the University’s iconic Building 10 and will reopen the reading room beneath it seven days a week beginning Feb. 27.

Work to restore the intricate skylight began last year in preparation for the 100th Anniversary of the University’s move to Cambridge in 1916. The skylight had been blacked out in 1942 to prevent it from being used as a beacon for enemy bombers during World War II.

Since the skylight was covered, the 100-foot-wide Great Dome has been the site of many of the University’s most famous pranks known as “hacks.” The pranksters have converted the dome into the R2D2 character from “Star Wars” and placed a wood and canvass plane on top of the building for the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers first flight in North Carolina.

The “hackers” did not even spare the restoration of the oculus. Last month, they placed images of video game character Pac-Man and the red ghost, Blinky, on scaffolding erected for the oculus construction.

The Pac-Man prank was taken down in January, and the last of the scaffolding on the exterior of the Great Dome was taken down earlier this week, according to MIT.

The intricate oculus has a diameter of 27 feet and is at the center of the dome. It has 1,042 blocks of glass and is supported by a a stainless steel frame. The glass blocks are embossed with patterns that increase the intensity of the light passing through them by 15 percent, according to MIT.

The light will illuminate the Barker Library reading room rotunda that sits beneath the dome. 

As part of the restoration work, MIT also had all of the Dome’s limestone cladding lifted so a new waterproof membrane could be injected beneath it.

--Brock Parker can be reached at

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