Recreating Experiments from History

Camilla Brinkman, Communications Administrator, Edgerton Center

Now in its 10th year, Instructor Elizabeth Cavicchi’s seminar EC.050 (Recreate Experiments from History) engages students in recreating the earliest experiments as a means to understanding what scientists and engineers learned centuries ago. In the process, students deepen their understanding of how the earliest scientists and engineers understood the natural world.  

While this was MIT senior Ronald Heisser’s smallest MIT course in terms of class size, it was actually his most fruitful one. "We discussed everything from astrolabes and Islamic tile stone-cutting to Franz Reuleaux, Faraday, and Feynman,” Heisser wrote in his blog.

The course is multifaceted and truly experiential involving exploration, observation, wondering aloud, questioning preconceived ideas, and experiments. Students had the opportunity to observe a demonstration of traditional lacemaking as a means to understanding how geometrical symmetries are constructed with thread; saw up close a 17th century Persian astrolabe housed at Harvard’s Houghton library; and observed the MIThenge phenomenon when the sun can be seen down the entire length of the Infinite.

Investigations continued past spring semester for both Heisser and Francesca Liuni, a graduate student in architecture. Both students, with the support of the Edgerton Center, traveled to Turin, Italy, in September with Cavicchi to participate in the annual Scientific Instrument Commission’s meeting...

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