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First-Year Discovery Subjects

The subjects listed below were created specifically to help first-year students discover majors, minors, concentrations, and topics of interest.

All first-year students are encouraged to take one or more of these subjects even if they feel that they already know their intended major. These subjects also count towards the 6 units for discovery and related exceptions rather than the normal first-year credit limit, making it easy to fit one or more of them into your schedule. 

Fall 2021 Subjects

1.008 Engineering Solutions to Societal Challenges – 3 units

Introduces societal-scale problems that span our built infrastructure and natural environment. Faculty members discuss case studies that highlight challenges and opportunities in the areas of smart cities, cyber-physical systems (transportation, electricity, and societal networks), sustainable resource management (land, water, and energy), and resilient design under the changing environment. Students study the use of data and computation in generating insights, and engage in practical laboratory sessions designed to promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 

1.009 Climate Change – 3 units

Provides an introduction to global climate change processes, drivers, and impacts. Offers exposure to exciting MIT research on climate change. Students explore why and how the world should solve this global problem and how they can contribute to the solutions. Students produce a mini-project on the topic.

4.001 Where Is and What Is Architecture and Design? – 3 units

Introduces Architecture and Design through conversations and presentations with MIT architecture and design faculty and MIT alumni. Discusses the two undergraduate majors, two undergraduate minors, and two HASS concentrations offered through Course 4 along with careers in architecture and design. 

6.9021J Introduction to Design Thinking and Innovation in Engineering – 3 units

Introduces students to concepts of design thinking and innovation that can be applied to any engineering discipline. Focuses on introducing an iterative design process, a systems-thinking approach for stakeholder analysis, methods for articulating design concepts, methods for concept selection, and techniques for testing with users. Provides an opportunity for first-year students to explore product or system design and development, and to build their understanding of what it means to lead and coordinate projects in engineering design. 

7.00 COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and the Pandemic – 2 units

Lectures by leading experts on the fundamentals of COVID-19 epidemiology, coronavirus and host cell biology, immunity, vaccine development, clinical disease and therapy. 

8.10 Exploring and Communicating Physics (and other) Frontiers – 2 units

This Discovery course will explore the most fundamental things we’ve learned about physical reality from modern science.  Most of them can be stated simply, but they will be discussed in a sophisticated way.  This exploration will involve reflecting on intellectual history, reviewing experimental evidence, and imagining how the ideas might develop and change in the future.  The instructor will pose questions for students to consider and encourage their active engagement.  Subject can count toward the 6-unit discovery-focused credit limit for first year students. 

14.009 Economics and Society’s Toughest Problems – 3 units 

Should we trade more or less with China? Why are some countries poor, and some countries rich? Why are the 1% getting richer? Should the US have a universal basic income? Why is our society becoming so polarized? What can we do to mitigate climate change? Will robots take all the jobs? Why does racism persist and how can we fight it? What will the world economy look like after the COVID-19 recession? Economics shows you how to think about some of the toughest problems facing society — and how to use data to get some answers. This exploratory course features lectures by MIT’s economics faculty, showing how their cutting-edge research can help answer these questions. 

15.000 Explorations in Management – 3 units

Broad introduction to the various aspects of management including analytics, accounting and finance, operations, marketing, entrepreneurship and leadership, organizations, economics, systems dynamics, and negotiation and communication. Introduces the field of management through a variety of experiences as well as discussions led by faculty or industry experts. Also reviews the three undergraduate majors offered by Sloan as well as careers in management. 

20.001 Introduction to Professional Success and Leadership in Biological Engineering – 3 units

Interactive introduction to the discipline of Biological Engineering through presentations by alumni practitioners, with additional panels and discussions on skills for professional development. Presentations emphasize the roles of communication through writing and speaking, building and maintaining professional networks, and interpersonal and leadership skills in building successful careers. Provides practical advice about how to prepare for job searches and graduate or professional school applications from an informed viewpoint. Prepares students for UROPs, internships, and selection of BE electives. 

21G.014 Introduction to Russian Politics and Society – 3 units

Introduces students to contemporary Russia through the analysis of major political, social, and cultural trends. Considers the role of identity, journalism, and music as instruments of political power. Addresses the issue of climate change and analyzes Russians’ perception of environmental threats to the country. Study materials include academic and media articles, as well as video clips. 

SP.248 Discover the Magic of the Ways of Thinking: NEET! – 3 units

Introduces students to the New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) Ways of Thinking, which are cognitive approaches for tackling complex challenges, valued by industry and for thriving in an uncertain and rapidly changing world. The NEET Ways of Thinking include, among many others, creative, ethical, critical, analytical, and systems-level thinking. Student teams engage in challenge-based learning in interdisciplinary engineering education via the NEET program threads, namely, Advanced Materials Machines, Autonomous Machines, Digital Cities, Living Machines, and Renewable Energy Machines. Student teams learn how to apply various Ways of Thinking for solving these challenges, including practical methods and tools which they can later use at MIT and beyond. 

SP.250 Transforming Good Intentions into Good Outcomes – 3 units

Explores hard choices, ethical dilemmas, and the risk of failure in the humanitarian, tech, climate change, and health sectors. Students examine case studies based on challenges faced by MIT alums, faculty, staff, students or community practitioners, and engage in simulations and facilitated discussions. Exposes students to ethical frameworks and standards for social engagement and intervention. Considers the choices faced, stakeholders involved, possible impact, and relevant MIT resources. Students produce a set of guiding questions to ask of themselves and others as they embark on social change work. 

SP.251 How to Change the World: Experiences from Social Entrepreneurs – 3 units

Every week, students meet a new role model who demonstrates what it means to change the world through social entrepreneurship. Students meet individual entrepreneurs, get immersed in the ecosystem that supports them, and visit MIT labs and startups in the Cambridge innovation community. Each session covers an aspect of social entrepreneurship, from identifying opportunities for change to market fit to planning for scale. Through these speakers and field trips, students gain a greater understanding of how technology-based, impactful solutions can address global challenges. Students learn to identify and address social and environmental problems and understand the relevance of this work for their time at MIT. They will see how to bring their ideas to fruition and extend their ties with the Solve community. 

SP.252 Careers in Medicine – 3 units

Through this course, students will explore careers in medicine and health care. It will also explore potential majors for students looking to go into these different careers, which include physicians, physician-scientists, research scientists, biomedical engineers, bioinformatics analysts, computational biologists, health data scientists, health system managers, and health economists. Majors could include biological engineering, biology, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, and more. Allows students to explore how they can have an impact in the field of medicine in a variety of different ways. Exposes students to career paths that are patient-facing (clinical) as well as career paths that are behind the scenes. Includes field trips to nearby labs and companies.

SP.257 MISTI Career Connections: Energy – 3 units

Provides students with an opportunity to network and think strategically about their global career in the energy sector. Content is international, drawing from MISTI’s global network of companies and institutions, and professional, with attention to energy research and skills necessary to work in the energy field. Through weekly discussion-based sessions, students learn from numerous sources: MISTI hosts, MITEI, alumni, and more. As a First-Year Discovery subject, focuses on career goals and skills. Open to students of all levels and disciplines, students can learn from each other and consider personal and professional goals in a multidisciplinary and international capacity. 

Spring 2022 Subjects

Spring 2022 First-Year Discovery Subjects are detailed below, please check back for any updates closer to the start of spring semester.

2.000 Explorations in Mechanical Engineering – 2 units

Broad introduction to the various aspects of mechanical engineering at MIT, including mechanics, design, controls, energy, ocean engineering, bioengineering, and micro/nano engineering through a variety of experiences, including discussions led by faculty, students, and industry experts. Reviews research opportunities and undergraduate major options in Course 2 as well as a variety of career paths pursued by alumni. 

3.001 Introduction to Materials Science and Engineering – 3 units

Provides a broad introduction to topics in materials science and the curricula in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering’s core subjects. Lectures emphasize conceptual and visual examples of materials phenomena and engineering, interspersed with guest speakers from both inside and outside academia to show possible career paths.  

6.9021J Introduction to Design Thinking and Innovation in Engineering – 3 units

Introduces students to concepts of design thinking and innovation that can be applied to any engineering discipline. Focuses on introducing an iterative design process, a systems-thinking approach for stakeholder analysis, methods for articulating design concepts, methods for concept selection, and techniques for testing with users. Provides an opportunity for first-year students to explore product or system design and development, and to build their understanding of what it means to lead and coordinate projects in engineering design. 

8.S02 Special Subject: Hands-on Approach to Electromagnetism – 3 units

The subject will focus on applications of the principles of electromagnetism and is designed for students who would like to have more hands-on experience with regards to topics introduced in 8.02. The seminar will combine physics, python programming (you do not need to know Python, but it will help), electrical and mechanical engineering. Hands-on projects will include building a low voltage power supply to drive circuits, building a capacitor to store energy, powering circuits with solar cells, building a magnetic speaker, a more in-depth study of motors and generators, levitating magnets, magnetic sensing and control, and wireless energy transfer. The seminar does not require any prior experience with building circuits, python, or more sophisticated electronic devices. Enrollment will be limited to 30 students who are taking 8.02 during the Spring 2022 term.

10.000 Engineering Molecular Marvels: Careers and ChemE at MIT – 2 units

Exposes students to the ways in which chemical technologies have profoundly altered the course of history. Discusses the next century’s great challenges, such as curing cancer and supplying the planet’s surging demand for clean water, food and energy, sustainably. Provides an overview of how ChemE students apply fundamental engineering principles and leverage technology, from molecules to systems, in the pursuit of practical solutions for these problems and more.

11.S03 Transportation Shaping Sustainable Urbanization: Connections with Behavior, Urban Economics and Planning – 3 units

Explores changes in the built environment expected from transportation investments, and how they can be used to promote sustainable and equitable cities. Reflects on how notable characteristics of cities can be explained by their historical and current transportation features. Introduces theoretical basis and empirical evidence to analyze how new mobility technologies will produce urban transformation, e.g., how autonomous vehicles and shared mobility services affect travel behavior and its implications from an urban planning perspective. Discusses from a historical perspective, e.g., how central areas of most European cities created during the pre-modern transportation era are more walkable, dense, and diverse; and the auto-oriented North American suburbs sprawling during the massive increase in car ownership. Lectures interspersed with guest speakers and an optional field trip.

11.S04 Special Subject: Topics in Affordable Housing – 3 units 

Weekly seminar-style discussions on topics in affordable housing, including federal funding programs, homelessness prevention and shelters, local land use and zoning for affordability, innovative housing models/designs, fair housing laws, the history of public housing in the US, and international comparisons. 

12.00 Frontiers and Careers in Earth, Planets, Climate, and Life – 2 units

Provides a broad overview of topics, technologies, and career paths at the forefront of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Introduces the complex interplay between physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology, and computational methods used to study processes associated with a changing Earth and climate, distant planets, and life. Sessions guided by faculty members discussing current research problems, and by EAPS alumni describing how their careers have evolved. 

22.011 Nuclear Engineering: Science, Systems and Society – 3 units

Introduction to the basic physics of nuclear energy and radiation, with an emphasis on the unique attributes and challenges of nuclear energy as a low-carbon solution. Discusses peaceful applications of ionizing radiation, such as reactors for materials science research, nuclear medicine, and security initiatives. Explores fission energy, establishing the scientific, engineering, and economic basis for power reactors. Describes the latest advances in nuclear reactor technology. Introduces magnetic fusion energy research, with lectures covering the scientific and engineering basis of tokamaks, the state-of-the-art in world fusion experiments, and the MIT vision for a high-magnetic field fusion reactor. Uses radiation detection equipment to explore radioactivity in everyday life.  

21G.015 Introduction to Buddhism, Mindfulness, and Meditation – 1 unit

Companion to the Fitness and Meditation class offered through MIT’s Wellness program. Introduces students to the basic ideas of Buddhism, the history of Buddhism’s transmission through East Asia, and core aspects of the philosophy of Humanistic Buddhism, including the role of meditation and mindfulness in Buddhist practice. Meets with the MIT Wellness Fitness and Meditation class; students must enroll in both to receive credit.

SP.248 Discover the Magic of the Ways of Thinking: NEET! – 3 units

Introduces students to the New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) Ways of Thinking, which are cognitive approaches for tackling complex challenges, valued by industry and for thriving in an uncertain and rapidly changing world. The NEET Ways of Thinking include, among many others, creative, ethical, critical, analytical, and systems-level thinking. Student teams engage in challenge-based learning in interdisciplinary engineering education via the NEET program threads, namely, Advanced Materials Machines, Autonomous Machines, Digital Cities, Living Machines, and Renewable Energy Machines. Student teams learn how to apply various Ways of Thinking for solving these challenges, including practical methods and tools which they can later use at MIT and beyond. 

SP.254 Low Carbon Energy in Research and Application – 3 units

One of the major challenges of our time is to provide more energy to a growing world population while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions to combat climate change. Climate science shows that it is urgent to accomplish this soon, as the residence times of most greenhouse gasses are large. Subject offers exposure to relevant research that is being done in this context at MIT. Students review short papers on low carbon technologies and climate change; hear from faculty, researchers, and industry representatives associated with the MITEI Low Carbon Energy Centers; and create a digital story exploring the connections between the challenges, research, and current deployment of technologies. Offers context to students’ future academic work and exposes students to ways in which many MIT majors apply to energy. 

SP.256 Informed Philanthropy in Theory and Action – 3 units

Explores the potential and pitfalls of philanthropy as a mechanism for social change. Students assess the work of community agencies to address challenges and opportunities facing MIT’s neighboring communities, with particular focus on community representation, equity, and social justice. Class culminates with students making a group decision on how the Learning by Giving Foundation (which is partnering with the class) will disperse $10,000 to local community agencies. Each session includes a presentation by a local community agency, grant making foundation, and/or individual philanthropist. Through class discussion and supporting materials, students examine the interaction between philanthropy and social change, including the role of philanthropists past and present in shaping social change and social conservatism.

SP.258 MISTI: Middle East Cross-Border Development and Leadership – 3 units

Provides opportunities to network and think strategically about challenges facing the Middle East and how situations can benefit from multi-disciplinary, cross-border solutions. Focus is international, with students working alongside peers from Israeli-Palestinian organizations. Through monthly professional development sessions with guest lecturers, weekly discussion-based sessions focused on the culture and history of the Middle East, and a group project, students explore what challenges face the Middle East and what skills are needed to address them. Networking opportunities with industry leaders and peers in the region provided. Open to students of all levels and disciplines.