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What Can Be Measured in “Smoots”?

You've probably never heard of Oliver R. Smoot, but if you've ever used Google Calculator or Google Earth, you've had the chance to get the measure of the man. Smoot was an MIT freshman who pledged the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity in 1958. Along with some fellow frat hopefuls, Smoot was given the task of measuring the length of the Harvard Bridge in an original way. The group decided to use the height of one of its own as a measurement, and since Smoot was the shortest among them -- thus presenting the most work -- he became the obvious choice. Smoot laid down and was measured at 5 feet 7 inches. The group then calculated the bridge length to be 364.4 smoots, "plus epsilon." The bridge marks they left behind became legend, and year after year, MIT students returned there to replace them if they had been erased. Ultimately, the marks became so entrenched in the area's culture that when the bridge was renovated in 1987, construction was done with 5-foot-7-inch concrete slabs, rather than typical 6-foot pieces. Of course, with many MIT grads going to work for Google, it was only a matter of time before the smoot was put to modern use. Thus, if you visit either of the aforementioned apps, you'll see the option of measuring things in smoots.

Inside the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

  • You can earn a "Pirate Certificate" at MIT by completing archery, pistol shooting, fencing, and sailing classes.

  • The first human cancer gene was identified at MIT in 1979.

  • MIT alumni are responsible for founding approximately 26,000 modern companies.

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