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MIT Students Drop Piano from Roof of Baker House
Videos for Engineers

MIT Students Drop Piano from Roof of Baker House - RF Cafe Video for EngineersWhen I saw the headline this weekend about students dropping a piano from a dormitory roof, I figured it was yet another installment of the annual Piano Drop orchestrated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineering class; it was. The Piano Drop is held on the same day as the last day that a class can be dropped. In 1972, notorious trickster Charlie Bruno decided it would be a good idea to take a piano to the roof of the Baker House dorm ("Year after year, Baker is the top choice in the housing lottery") and, with great fanfare by assembled students below, send it to its undignified musical death. According to witnesses, though, rather than go out with a cacophony of nonharmonic percussional tones and semitones, the ceremony ended with a single, short-lived loud thud. Still, for guys, just watching something fall from great heights and crash to the ground is worth the trouble. Don't doubt me on this.

This year's event marks two important benchmarks, one of which helped boost the story to the national level. 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the piano drop tradition, and, the reason for increased coverage, it is the first time that dropped classes can be expunged from a student's records.

As a side note, in honor of Charlie's efforts, a new unit of measure was named after him: the Bruno. One Bruno is "A unit of volume equal to the size of the dent in asphalt resulting from the free fall of an upright piano. Determined to be 1158 cubic centimeters when the experiment was first performed in 1972. [MIT Club of Boston, 1999]." According to their calculations, the piano was traveling at 43 mi/hr and contained 45000 kft·lbs of energy when it hit. This year's event was used as an opportunity to "recalibrate" the Bruno unit.

Since most of us here are engineers or technicians, I am providing the calculation for the velocity. I could not find the exact height of the Baker House, but it is six stories, and a typical building story is 10 feet tall. Plus, there is about a 3-foot high safety wall on the roof. So, let us assume a height of (6 x 10)+3 = 63 feet. The equation for final speed of a falling object with a beginning speed = zero (0) is given by:

s = sqrt (2 g h)   (neglecting air resistance)

s = sqrt (2 32.2ft/s 63ft) = 63.7 ft/s = 43 mi/hr... in agreement with the published speed.

Verification of the energy content is left as an exercise for the reader.

MIT is no stranger to creating new units of measure. Another famous engineering student, Oliver Smoot, was used as a "yardstick" by fellow students to determine the length of the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, which has been determined to be 364.4 Smoots long. Google even has the built-in converter (they do not have a Bruno unit conversion, though):

1 smoot = 5.58333333 feet (5 feet 7 inches)

Read more of the MIT piano drop on the Boston.com website.

MIT Students Drop Piano from Dorm Roof

Here Is the Original Piano Drop from 1972

Videos for Engineers - RF CafeThis archive links to the many video and audio files that have been featured on RF Cafe.

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Posted April 30, 2012

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