Visionary Engineer, Harold Edgerton, an MIT Museum exhibit showcasing MIT’s new digital collection of works by Harold “Doc” Edgerton, is the literal tip of the iceberg. Edgerton, the renowned MIT professor, inventor and engineer, may be best known for transforming the stroboscope into a tool that could stop action and show the world in photos and films how a milk drop splashes, how a hummingbird flies, and how bombs explode. At the museum, you can see films, original artifacts, plus plus a new ‘piddler’ machine built for this exhibition.
The rest of the iceberg is the vast digital repository of his work now available online. The Edgerton Digital Collections (EDC) project makes 22,000 still images, 150 films and video, and thousands of pages of hand written notes available online. Check the galleries for iconic images, learn about his techniques, and review his notebooks.
On TechTV, you can see what formations milk takes on when it is dropped in a slow motion film by Edgerton, who died, still teaching as a professor emeritus at age 87, in 1990. This 78-video collection also includes slow-motion explosions of two-ton BlockBuster bombs and sand dollars burying themselves in the ocean floor.
Edgeron’s biography shows a man in motion. In 1927, Edgerton earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering, and in 1931, he earned his PhD. His doctoral dissertation included a high-speed motion picture of a motor in motion, made with a mercury-arc stroboscope. Edgerton soon developed and improved strobes and used them to freeze objects in motion in both still photographs and ultra-high-speed movies. He worked with photojournalists, entertainers, and, at the request of the military, he developed a nighttime aerial reconnaissance photography system that was used in WWII. He published many articles in National Geographic magazine including, “Hummingbirds in Action,” in 1947. The article contained high-speed photographs that illustrated for the first time the wing movement and flight patterns of these tiny birds. He worked with Jacques-Yves Cousteau, building underwater flashes and cameras and then acoustic devices that measured distances underwater, which were used to locate an H-bomb off the coast of Spain. And he did much, much more.