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MIT student blogger Laura N. '09

Machine Shops, Part 1 by Laura N. '09

Yay, power tools! A look at places to find them around campus.

In response to a request from a current applicant, I’m proud to present to you a virtual tour of some of MIT’s machine shops. As you can imagine, especially considering that our official motto is Latin for “Mind and Hand,” MIT is very big on hands-on projects. To facilitate this, there is a wide variety of places around campus where you can get your hands on some power tools- of the large variety.

One of the principle machine shops on campus is Pappalardo Lab. This is the lab space used by Course 2 students (Course 2 is Mechanical Engineering, for those of you keeping track at home).

Pappalardo is home to a wide range of Course 2 resources. The primary component is the shop area- but nearby are also several conference rooms for group design meetings as well as a couple of labs for classes like 2.004 and 2.14 (controls) and 2.671 (experimentation). Luckily for you, I’ve been taking photos for my lab reports in 2.671.

This was the setup for a lab where we analyzed the gas velocity profile of laminar flow of nitrogen in a long tube. Notice all the wires. Each lab station has several power supplies, handheld multimeters, a function generator, and an oscilloscope. In other words, there’s a high concentration of toys per lab bench.

This is the setup for an experiment where we measured the speed of sound in various gases.

This is Adelaide ’09 (my lab partner AND next door neighbor- how convenient!) thinking hard about the output of our sensors shown on the oscilloscope.

That’s fun and everything, but the real fun part of Pappalardo is the machine shop. Every Course 2 student gets to know Pappalardo very well over the years- they typically take 2.670 (a class where you build a Sterling engine) IAP of sophomore year, 2.007 in the spring of sophomore year, and 2.009 in the fall of senior year. (If you’d like to see more about 2.007, all students who take the class are required to create a website about it- you can check out mine here.)

So, after all of that intro, are you ready for the pictures? Pappalardo has…

An entire row of lathes. (Lathes are machines that can be used to create cylindrical parts, for example a pin that needs a groove or a rod that needs a varying diameter.)

Even more milling machines. (A milling machine has a bit called an end mill which is controlled by 3 axes. You can do lots of cool things on a milling machine- from drilling a hole at a precise location to engraving a pattern.)

There are also lots of bandsaws,

drill presses,

chalkboard space,


and a shower. Not sure exactly why this is here, but it’s probably part of a prototype environment for a 2.009 project.

More 2.009 projects…

And a nice view of all of the available table space.

Another machine shop on campus is the Hobby Shop.

The Hobby Shop requires a membership fee, but it’s the only place (that I know of) on campus with woodworking capabilities. Also, since it’s run by an alum rather than a major academic department and caters to people doing cool stuff for fun rather than official for-credit projects, the Hobby Shop has a more “lived-in” feel than Pappalardo:

The Hobby Shop also has a rather impressive supply of materials:

Otherwise, the Hobby Shop is pretty typical, and has most of what you’d expect, like

drill presses,

milling machines,


…and a waterjet? Don’t get me wrong, waterjets are awesome (they spray sandy water at such high velocities that it can actually cut through steel and create really precise and detailed patters which can be really hard to machine with other methods) but I was surprised to find one in the Hobby Shop. I had been under the impression that the shop was exclusively full of woodworking tools, but apparently not.

A couple of Hobby Shop members work on a table they’re building.

But no matter where you go…

Safety first, of course. =)

The good news is, this isn’t even half of the machine shops on campus. The bad news is, I can only take so many pictures at a time. Consider this a first installment, and stay tuned for the next one, which will feature the Lab for Manufacturing and Productivity, the Course 16 (Areo/Astro) lab space, and the Edgerton Center machine shop.

EDIT: You can read part 2 here: Machine Shops, Part 2.

26 responses to “Machine Shops, Part 1”

  1. Paul says:

    Awesome entry. Brings back so many good memories from my DME days.

  2. Paul says:

    …I just realized, that last comment make me sound really old…uh-oh.

  3. Karen says:

    An entire row of lathes?!!! My robotics team has broken two in the last year (albeit one was from the early 20s)…what we would give for just one of those beautiful machines smile

  4. EA applicant says:

    first thought!
    IT IS SOOO CLEAN!!!! How do you keep it like that??
    Don’t you miss the crunchy sound of stepping on aluminum shavings?? They are fun and cool looking until you get them in your hair or started bleeding from them!Mills are cool!!! I have been staying away from the lathe since wood shop in 8th grade because I am afraid that my hair might get caught. My wood shop teacher told us a LOT of creepy stories that included missing fingers and missing hair/skin to keep us same and cautious.

    To Karen: You are lucky that you get lathe for your robotics team!! we have to beg local companies so we can MAYBE use their machines. All we got are drill press and band saw… NOT FUN when you are making something precise.

    *heart* A WHOLE ROW OF MILLS !!! *drools* jkjk

    It is true that you can keep a mini mill in your dorm at MIT?
    And do you get time to work on your own projects?

    I wish I can work on one of beautiful machines one day!

  5. “I’ve heard some people complain about the architecture of MIT…something along the lines of “ugly”, but I really couldn’t care less about the outside. LOOK AT THAT INSIDE!!!”
    Nods, nods, nods!

  6. Sam says:

    DIZZLEFRIENDBLOG. Laura, you’re the best.

  7. Eric says:

    I’ve heard some people complain about the architecture of MIT…something along the lines of “ugly”, but I really couldn’t care less about the outside. LOOK AT THAT INSIDE!!!

  8. Keri says:

    The shower’s for my friend Connie’s 2.009 project. I’m not sure exactly what she’s doing, but it entailed sending Senior House an email asking for details about how we shower.

  9. Harrison says:

    In addition to huge shops all over campus, some dorms have tool collections for communal use or even in-dorm shops (like East Campus). What’s important is that you never ever ever touch a lathe unless you know exactly what you’re doing or else you will lose an arm/die. Or so I’ve been told by people who work with lathes.

  10. Josh says:


    I personally love machine shops, they make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

    I was actually visiting MIT two weekends ago and I got to see some of the smaller machine shops in the Media Lab, as well as MITERS. MIT is just amazing, I really hope I get in.

    P.S. You can cut wood with a flo-jet, although it certainly isn’t its main purpose. In fact, I witnessed some awesome wood-cutting on a flo-jet last summer, while I was interning for Instructables!

  11. Sh1fty says:

    do you have people who know how to work on those? :D i know my lathe guy would kill me if i even tried to work on his lathe :D it’s good to know that anything can be made, i’m sure it comes useful. can people who are not course 2 use those machines or at least get someone to make what they need?
    btw link for your 2.007 site is pointed to http://web/lnicks/www/2.007/ instead of

  12. @ Josh
    Huzzah! Another person whom machine shops make feel warm/fuzzy.

    I love lathes.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Woahh! Do you get access if you’re not a course 2 major? Are there lots of CNCs? Is it okay to use the shop in the wee hours of the morning?

    Yuzhi: ummm haha ditto @ alu shavings. our school shop may be horrifically messy, but we generally keep our mill area pretty spotless.


  14. Rachel ?12? says:

    | forgot my name

  15. Daniel says:

    That’s pretty sweet… it looks like the concept of paradise for the mechies on my robotics team. XD

    All we have is one combination mill/lathe (which I believe we only acquired last year), a drill press, and various other relatively small machining tools including a small band-saw. MIT’s facilities blow that out of the water.

  16. The table being built in the Hobby Shop is part of a Next House (residence-based) freshman advising seminar (<a>SP.766</a>). It’s a really cool seminar and as part of it you get free membership to the Hobby Shop; if you want to live in Next House, this is definitely a good advising option.

    @ Eric: The Hobby Shop is not above complaints about architecture – it’s in the basement of a gym, so there will often be loud reverberations of basketballs on the ceiling, and also it has no air-conditioning or windows.

  17. Noelle says:

    The 2.007 field on your site mildly resembles the FIRST Robotics game setup. Pretty cool that they’re that similar (Go Woodie!) It’s one of the classes that I’m really looking forward to if I get in. Are the machine shops and stock available to all students for free?

  18. Harrison says:

    In addition to its prime location under the gym floor, it’s next to the pistol range too! Good stuff. Btw pistol at MIT is awesome.

  19. I am an prospectent ’16er and I want to know your Course 6 and Course 2 classes

  20. Trenten'16 says:

    oh yeah, this blog rocks and tell snivley that his guestblog is pretty good

  21. to know a lot about mit ,it does live up to the reputation.

  22. Kelsey K says:

    That’s good to hear that there are shops available to students! Yea!

    But, are there welding facilities available to students? I’m one of those girls that likes to weld, and it would be amazing to know if there was somewhere I could Arc weld every now and then!

  23. Neblina says:

    I would love to work there!
    …A.I. 4 Ever!

  24. Haris says:

    i am an A-lvl student….
    and want to know that does the use of all these awsome machines costs something extra….

    by the way the pics were gr8

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