As dozens of Nobel Prize winners can attest, students at this university aren’t exactly normal. There is a place or persona or maybe a state of mind called Tetazoo. That stands for “Third East Traveling Animal Zoo,” the name of a dormitory hall at MIT. At the moment, several of its scruffy denizens, including Sam Kendig, 22, are ramming sectional couches down a corridor of classrooms as fast as low-tech human power can, past lab-coated professors and graduate students, none of whom blink an eye. After all, it’s the weekend of the amazing Mystery Hunt—more about that soon—when such peculiar behavior is normal. And in the institute’s 140-year history, these corridors have been traversed by 59 Nobel laureates and 30 astronauts, as well as Dr. Dolittle author Hugh Lofting, architect I. M. Pei, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, inventor Raymond Kurzweil, Ford Motor Company honcho William C. Ford, suspected Al Qaeda agent Aafia Siddiqui, and NPR’s “Car Talk” guys. At a guess, none of them were normal, either. No one seems to be normal at MIT.
Think about it. The World Wide Web was born at MIT in 1994. That same year, firms founded by MIT graduates generated $232 billion and employed a million people worldwide. Now Treo phones and Google are part of everyday life. We’re all nerds. And there’s a pretty good case to be made that whatever the students on the MIT campus are interested in at this moment will utterly change our lives again in about a decade. The MIT culture is a fecund environment where some of the finest creative minds on the planet not only nurture ideas but also figure out how to use them. The definition of technology is, after all, “the science of the application of knowledge to practical purposes.”