Physics Instructional Resources Lab
@ MIT Physics

The Physics Instructional Resources Lab (PIRL) provides support for undergraduate physics education at MIT.
This role is also shared by other entities in the Physics Education Group (PEG) including the Helena Foundation Junior Physics Laboratory and Physics Residential and Online Learning Lab (PROLL) which is also a subset of the MITx Online Digital Learning Lab.
PIRL was formerly known as the Technical Services Group (TSG), Lecture Demo Group (LDG), or Physics Demo Group (PDG).


All MIT students must receive credit for 8.01 (Classical Mechanics) and 8.02 (Electricity and Magnetism) in order to satisfy the General Institute Requirements (GIRs).
A portion of students receive prior credit for 8.01 due to scores on exams (AP, IB, international equivalents). Another portion receive credit for 8.01 and/or 8.02 through Advanced Standing Exams (ASEs) or transfer credit.
The remaining majority attend our introductory physics classes.

We support these versions of 8.01:

We support these versions of 8.02: We also provide support for 8.03: Some typical enrollments for Fall/Spring:
8.01: 600/0
8.012: 50/0
8.01L: 100/0
8.02: 150/700
8.022: 40/40
8.03: 70/50

We have supported historical and experimental courses with numbers like 8.01C, 8.01X, 8.011, 8.013, 8.02C, 8.02X, 8.021, 8.023, 8.033, and 8.04. The historic course progression through the 1970s included a number of thermodynamics, optics, and atomic physics demos in these intro classes.
We also support the Physics Pre-Orientation Program, the Cambridge Science Festival, MIT Museum visits, open houses, and one-off lectures.

History and Footprint

Around 1916, lecture demo storage was shared across departments behind room 10-250, Huntington Hall. Despite the construction of the George Eastman Laboratories for chemistry and physics in the 1930s, the demos remained until the construction of building 26, Karl Taylor Compton Laboratories in the 1950s. At that point, demos were moved to the two-story storage area behind the Institute's new largest lecture hall, 26-100, while a workspace was available next to teaching lab space in 4-309. With the transition to smaller TEAL courses and funding for space available for physics space renovations after decades, our main work/storage area was moved in 2007 to occupy the second floor of the new building 6C [Physics Department of materials science and engineering Spectroscopy Infrastructure (PDSI) / Green Center for Physics]. Prior to the opening of building 6C, TSG was housed in 4-309.

Our storage footprint spans about 8800 square feet of MIT.
Our primary workspace spans 6C-207 and its child rooms 6C-207A/B/CA/CAA/CB/CC/CD/F/G.
Historically, 8.01 and 8.02 lectures were held in 26-100, so we have storage below in 26-001/26-001M, 26-003/26-003B, and 26-002.
Now, with lecture classes in 6-120, we store demos in 6-114 (known as 6-116 before a wall was knocked down a few decades ago and soon to once again be known as 6-116 once a new wall is installed).
For TEAL classes in 26-152, we have storage in 26-160.
For TEAL classes in 32-082, we have storage in 32-082C/32-082CA along with the closets 32-085A/B/C.
We also have shops for academic use by faculty/staff in 6-210 and 6-212 - as well as the Physics Student Machine Shop in 6-214 which is staffed intermittently.

Notable Collections

Our Faraday Cage demo uses a large Van de Graaff generator built and exhibited in 1933 by Professor Van de Graaff himself.

We have a Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company spark gap transmitter from circa 1901. Allegedly, it is the same model as was on the Titanic.

At least one of our large electromagnets predates MIT's move from Boston to Cambridge in 1916.

A number of our devices were manufactured locally by General Radio on Massachusetts Avenue. GenRad invented the "5-way" binding post, the variac, the oven-controlled crystal oscillator, the first tube-based RC oscillator, the decade capacitor boxes used in the first superheterodyne radio broadcast system, and, with MIT Professor Doc Edgerton, the Strobotac. Other disputed inventions include the banana plug.

We also have a number of films, transcripts, and guides relating to the work of the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC). The project, which began at MIT in 1956, attempted to reform physics education by emphasizing principles and hands-on activities like demos and labs. The project, the first cirricular program funded by the National Sciece Foundation, eventually grew into the video production company Educational Services Inc. (ESI) which then became the non-profit Education Development Center (EDC). At its peak, the PSSC curriculum was used in over half of US physics classrooms. Out of the project grew MIT's Science Teaching Center/Education Research Center which spawned the concept of a Corridor Lab. These historical freshman/sophomore lab experiments are also in our posession.


Group Manager
Joshua Wolfe 2017 -
Group Members
Caleb Bonyun 2016 - ; Science Content Creator
Christopher Miller '21 2022 - ; Webmaster; wears bow ties on Tuesdays
Rosie Anderson 2022 -
Former Members
Quinn Brodsky '22 2022
Gladys VĂ©lez Caicedo 2017 - 2022
Andy Neely 2003 - 2022; Group Manager
Rishi Lohar 2021 - 2022
Amelia Nishimura 2021 - 2022
Kay Lowden 2017 - 2020; Shop Manager
Matt Strafuss 2005 - 2013; application and database developer
Alex Shvonski 2010 - 2012; content and outreach developer; returned to MIT after a PhD as a Lecturer/Digital Learning Lab Fellow
Eli Sidman 2007 - 2011; videographer and machinist; responsible for TechTV/YouTube videos of our demos
Bil Sanford 2000 - 2010; "retaining knowledge during the modernization of the "Physics Lecture Demo Group" into TSG
Dan Kelleher 2011 - 2015
Charles Bosse 2011 - 2017
Colin Marcus 2012 - 2017; Electronics Enthusiast; moved on to DMSE and the Media Lab
Beth Roberts 2015 - 2017
Markos Hankin 2000 - 2008; Group Manager
Patrick Ragsdale 2002 - 2005
Adam Reynolds '01 2003 - 2006
Zachary Rouse 2001 - 2002
Guy F. Pollard circa 1992-2001; worked with demos, labs, shops, and the Edgerton Center
Ryan Sar 1998 - 2001
Robert MacLeod 1994 - 2000
Dave Robertson 1986 - 2000; hired by George Clark for Junior Lab/Project lab; worked on corridor lab and demos as well; moved to AeroAstro
Charles A. Forte 1985 - 1993
Robert Mark Bessette 1980 - 2000; Group Manager 1987 - 2000; developed TEAL animations; left for the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives
Charles McMillan compiled list of 8.012 demos in 1979
Robert Crowley circa 1986-1987
Hamid Arjomand 1988-1990
John Albano 1973-circa 1974
Thomas White 1973-1996; replaced Harry Anderson
"John" circa 1970s
"Sam" circa 1970s
R. H. Fletcher 1930 - 1940+; Curator of Apparatus
Harry E. Anderson 1931 - 1973; Curator of Apparatus; initially in charge of labs then lectures; still around in 1977
Carl G. Selig 1931 - 1935; Instrument Maker and Curator of Apparatus