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Why yes, that IS a roller coaster on MIT’s campus

MIT student Lauren St. Hilaire went down a roller coaster constructed of wood on the MIT campus in 2015. This week, dozens of students are constructing a similar roller coaster in the quad between the East Campus buildings.
MIT student Lauren St. Hilaire went down a roller coaster constructed of wood on the MIT campus in 2015. This week, dozens of students are constructing a similar roller coaster in the quad between the East Campus buildings.(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2015)

When Andrea Meister arrived at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a freshman, she wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to study.

But after meeting students within the first few days who were hammering away and building a small wooden roller coaster in the middle of East Campus, one of the school’s oldest dormitories, she quickly figured it out.

“It was a good part of the reason that I became a mechanical engineer,” said Meister, a rising senior. “And I know that’s also true for other people.”

That was in 2014. But the inventive young minds at MIT are at it again. This week, dozens of students are constructing a similar roller coaster in the quad between the East Campus buildings. The ride will be ready in time for Sunday’s annual East Campus Rush celebrations, a time when incoming freshmen are welcomed to the school and choose where they’d like to live.

Meister, who is an East Campus rush chair and helps coordinate the many activities on the quad for new students, said those in charge of this year’s roller coaster have been laboriously working away on the project since last October.

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To pull off the project, students must get approvals from MIT officials, have professional engineers and architects sign off on their design plans, and get the proper permitting from Cambridge’s Inspectional Services Department.

“We’ve approved it. We looked at the plans and made sure that it’s safe,” ISD Commissioner Ranjit Singanayagam said. “As long as an engineer stamps the plans, then we consider it stable.”

After all that, the building begins — a process that takes days to complete and requires the help of anyone willing enough to pick up a hammer or hoist a wood plank.

Meister said this year’s roller coaster, which is built entirely from lumber, screws, and bolts, will be about three stories high.

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When it’s complete, students will sit in a small vehicle that looks like a go-kart before taking the plunge and traveling along a rising and falling track that’s nearly 200 feet long. Only one person can ride it at a time.

The MIT students’ roller coaster was under construction Wednesday.
The MIT students’ roller coaster was under construction Wednesday.(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)

If projects from past years — students also made one in 2015 — are any indication, the wooden carnival ride should be a big hit this weekend.

MIT touts its dormitories as central to the student experience.

That was true for Meister. She fell in love with the creativity oozing from East Campus and the welcoming nature of the students living there.

“East Campus has been an incredibly supportive community,” Meister said.

Plus, the students make roller coasters.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.