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IEEE and MIT

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IEEE and MIT

MIT was founded by William Barton Rogers in 1861. Eighteen eighty-two, the year of Rogers’ death, saw the establishment of the first electrical engineering programs worldwide, and MIT established its program, the first in the United States, within the Physics Department. (The University of Missouri and Cornell University both established separate departments within a few years.) This was two years before the founding of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE), predecessor of the IEEE. By the time MIT built a new electrical laboratory and spun off its Electrical Engineering Department in 1902, AIEE was well established as the leading professional society in the new field. Therefore, it is no surprise that MIT turned to two-term past president of the AIEE Louis Duncan to head up the endeavor. Over the decades, many presidents of AIEE and the IRE (Institute of Radio Engineers, IEEE’s other predecessor organization) were MIT undergraduate or graduate alumni or faculty. Since the merger of AIEE and IRE in 1963, at least five IEEE presidents, from John Guarrera (IEEE president in 1974) to Leah Jamieson (2007) have had MIT undergraduate degrees.

From 1940 until 1945, during World War II, MIT hosted the Radiation Laboratory (Rad Lab) in its later famous and now defunct Building 20. Rad Lab, one of the most important government research programs of the 20th century, was critical in developing a wide range of military hardware, radar technology, and microwave theory. Furthermore, its subsequent publication of a 28-volume set of research reports shaped a generation of research and teaching in several fields of electronics. For the 50th anniversary in 1990, Rad Lab was dedicated as an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing, then only the 15th such event so designated. (There are now over 100 IEEE Milestones.)

Furthermore, the IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society, which was formed as the IRE Professional Group on Microwave Electronics in 1952, considers the Rad Lab to be where its field was formed and its founding members trained and brought together. Therefore, in 1991, the Society organized a Rad Lab 50th anniversary reunion in Boston. The IEEE History Center took the opportunity to conduct oral history interviews with 41 of the alumni. Overnight, the IEEE’s oral history collection increased in quantity by two-thirds, and the History Center was established as a major repository of the history of IEEE fields. Many of the subjects of subsequent interviews — the oral history collection now has over 500 interviews — had MIT connections, too.

There is, as well, MIT material in the IEEE History Center’s Archives. Although these collections comprise primarily an archive of IEEE institutional history, over the years through the relationship with key IEEE volunteers and members—many with MIT connections — other interesting material has been accumulated as well. One of the most fascinating of these is a series of video interviews, collected in the 1980s, of the computer pioneers from MIT’s Whirlwind project of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

This is just a small taste of the interconnections between IEEE and MIT, but the relationship is sure to continue. For example, in recognition of MIT’s sesquicentennial, the IEEE Boston Section, many of whose members are still MIT affiliates, is planning to nominate Whirlwind as an IEEE Milestone, in addition to several other achievements that were centered at MIT. To end, then, all we can say is, “Arise, ye sons of MIT!”