Newsletter of the Mercurians

The IEEE Virtual Museum <> is an online educational resource created by the IEEE History Center at Rutgers University in collaboration with IEEE volunteers and others. The project began in 2000 as an initiative of the IEEE Foundation, Inc., which provided the seed money. The museum’s primary goal is to provide historical information about electrical and electronic technologies, explain how those technologies worked, and show the evolution of those technologies. The museum is aimed primarily at high school students and their teachers as well as the non-engineering general public.

Creating the museum on the web, rather than establishing a brick-and-mortar institution, was important to the IEEE for a number of reasons. First, neither the IEEE nor the History Center has significant collections of artifacts or a professional curatorial staff. One advantage of building a virtual museum is that it can bring together the best artifacts from museums around the world and present them online. Second, the IEEE has a global membership, so its museum had to have the global reach that a physical museum simply cannot achieve. Future enhancements of the IEEE Virtual Museum may include the ability to select the language in which text is presented, thereby making the museum more accessible to non-English speakers.

The first two exhibits opened in 2001. They were “Socket to Me!” an overview of the history of electrical and computing technologies, and a more narrowly focused exhibit called "The Beat Goes On," examining the history of sound recording technology. “Socket to Me!” was created to provide an introduction or “backbone” for the museum. "The Beat Goes On," smaller in size and narrower in scope, provided a model for future exhibits on specialized topics.

Center staff also organized focus groups with educators to devise ways in which the material offered through the IEEE Virtual Museum might be incorporated into middle-school classrooms.

Two new exhibits were added during 2001 and 2002: one was on Thomas Edison, the other on the theme of women and technology. A fifth exhibit on microwave technologies, created largely by IEEE volunteers, will open in early 2003.                            —David Morton