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It was just like any other day
on the MIT.nano project site.
We were digging outside of
building 26, on the west side,
and as we got further down in
the hole we saw something that
looked a little out of place.
We stopped and started to hand
dig at that point with shovels
and sure enough as we got
further around the object and
exposed it more it was certainly
something that shouldn't
have been there. So it
definitely caught out attention
and at that point worked stopped.
Once we determined that it was
safe to remove, the MIT Office
of Environmental Health and
Safety came by to pick it up.
Once they had in a situation
where they could open it, under
containment, and it was safe,
they revealed to us the contents
which was really amazing. It was
a time capsule with all kinds of
interesting objects inside.
Completely out of the blue, I
get an email which says,
"Facilities has found a time
capsule do you have any
information associated with
this?" And I recognized it
immediately as the 1957 time
capsule that was buried as part
of the dedication ceremonies
for building 26, and was the
first of two very well known
time capsules here on campus
because they were both designed
and created and facilitated by
one of our most famous
professors, Harold Edgerton.
He saved things, he loved
history, he loved the world so
its, to me, completely within
his personality when they
started to think about creative
ways to create a ceremony to
mark the occasion of a new
building, that he say, "Let's
make a time capsule!"
Glass is a perfect material to
use for this because it is so
inert over the long term.
So it could have been soda-lime
glass or borosilicate glass or
almost any kind of stable glass;
would have been a good container
for the contents of these things
because its buried in the ground.
So wood is going to rot and
metal will oxidize and rust and
eventually rust through and the
contents would be destroyed.
But glass is stable over really
long time scales. There's
something incredibly interesting
about this capsule and that is
the sign taped on the outside of
the glass that says: Do not open
until 2957. That's mind-boggling
if you think about it. 2957?
Seriously? That's a thousand
years from the burial of the
time capsule.
This would last at least a
thousand years maybe two or
three thousand years. But I
the way they did this is I think
there were two sealing phases
here. First they had an open-
ended cylinder. And they had
these two caps that got joined
here right where the cylinder
comes to an end. And before they
put that first cap on they
stuffed everything inside that
they could get in there. And,
actually I think they put some
sort of little shield in there
to prevent the heat from any
particles from getting down and
burning what was inside. I think
they used two torches. I think
they used one torch to gently
pre-heat the whole top, and then
another guy came along while a
second person was pre-heating
the general area and did a
specific seal with a hotter
torch right there. So a thousand
years to me was amazing and
in fact James Killian, who was
the president and the chief
participant in this burial, he
wrote a letter that's inserted
into the capsule and he mentioned
that they deposited documents
and mementoes, "which tell
something of the state of
science, technology and education
and, more specifically the state
of Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, at the time when we
dedicate the Karl Taylor Compton
Laboratories on Jun 10, 1957 A.D."
And then Killian adds, "We cannot
guess what the next millennium
holds for the world or whether
you will regard our age as one
of science. But we are confident
that you will have a greater
understanding of the Universe
and that we will have made some
contribution to that understanding.
We wish you continued success in
the pursuit of knowledge.
It's a beautiful letter really
that captures something of MIT
of their sense of our times and
their place in the world. And
you sense in this letter Killian's
fundamental optimism that the
human species will survive that
it will continue to be creative
and that the work of MIT will be
somehow recognized as important
to the world history.