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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. 

1.008 Engineering for a Sustainable World – 3 units

Introduces engineering principles for sustainable development of infrastructure, environmental, and societal systems. 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. Instruction covers the use of computation and data analytics for generating insights, and exercises designed to promote systems 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. 

2.7231J/6.9101J/16.6621J 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. 

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. 

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. 

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

Features a series of 12 interactive sessions that span a wide variety of topics at the frontiers of science – e.g., quantum computing, dark matter, the nature of time – and encourage independent thinking. Discussions draw from the professor’s published pieces in periodicals as well as short excerpts from his books.  Also discusses, through case studies, the process of writing and re-writing. 

11.100 Introduction to Computational Thinking in Cities – 3 units

Highlights how computer science may inform and impact how cities are conceptualized, planned, designed, regulated, and managed. The first half of the class explores the history of computational approaches in urban planning between around 1950 and 2020. The second half attempts to connect the data science concepts learned in 6.100B to topics in city planning and design. 

11.S03 Special Subject: 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. From a historical perspective, e.g., discusses 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. Introduces theoretical basis and empirical evidence to analyze the urban transformation autonomous vehicles will bring and how shared mobility services affect travel behavior, and its implications from an urban planning perspective. Lectures interspersed with guest speakers and an optional field trip. 

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 answers. Features lectures by MIT’s economics faculty, showing how their cutting-edge research can help answer these questions. In lieu of problem sets, quizzes, or other written assignments, students produce materials of their choice (podcasts, TikToks, longer videos) with the view to make a potential audience excited about economics. 

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.   

22.015 Radiation and Life: Applications of Radiation Sources in Medicine, Research, and Industry – 3 units

Introduces students to the basics of ionizing and non-ionizing radiation; radiation safety and protection; and an overview of the variety of health physics applications, especially as it pertains to the medical field and to radioactive materials research in academia. Presents basic physics of ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, known effects of the human body, and the techniques to measure those effects. Common radiation-based medical imaging techniques and therapies discussed. Projects, demonstrations, and experiments introduce students to standard techniques and practices in typical medical and MIT research lab environments where radiation is used.  

22.016 Seminar in Fusion and Plasma Physics – 1 unit

Discusses the challenges and opportunities on the path to fusion energy through a range of plasma and fusion energy topics, including discussion of the global energy picture, basic plasma physics, the physics of fusion, fusion reactors, tokamaks, and inertial confinement facilities. Covers why nuclear science, computer science, and materials are so important for fusion, and how students can take next steps to study fusion while at MIT. Includes tours of laboratories at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center.  

22.017 Nuclear in the News – 2 units

Covers the state of nuclear energy and technologies in popular media and current events. Topics include: modern-day Chernobyl, advances in fission reactor building, and the corporate use of fusion devices. Discussions guided by student interest and questions. Includes presentations by expert faculty in nuclear science and engineering. 

24.93 The Search for Meaning – 2 units

“We create islands of meaning in the sea of information” (Freeman Dyson). Primarily explores meanings conveyed through language, with an emphasis on concepts and tools from linguistics. Also brings in ideas from information theory, cryptography, logic, psychology, anthropology, computer science, philosophy, and literature. Topics include human language and its core properties, writing systems, auxiliary systems (talking drums, whistled languages), animal communication systems, the interplay of language and thought, the social dimensions of meaning, the unreasonable effectiveness of cursing, and much more. Includes some reading and thinking outside class, but no problem sets or papers. 

SP.248 NEET Ways of Thinking – 3 units

Gives first-year students an opportunity to explore the New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) program while practicing valuable non-technical skills. Introduces students to the NEET Ways of Thinking, which are cognitive approaches for tackling complex challenges, valued by industry for thriving in an uncertain and rapidly changing world. Student teams engage in challenge-based learning in interdisciplinary engineering education via the NEET program threads. Teams learn how to apply various Ways of Thinking to solve 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.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 careers in the energy sector. Content is international, drawing from MISTI’s global network of companies and institutions, and professionals, 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, providing both a global and local perspective on energy topics. 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.