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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 2023

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.’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.

3.001 Science and Engineering of Materials – 3 units

Provides a broad introduction to topics in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering’s core subjects. Classes emphasize hands-on activities and conceptual and visual examples of materials phenomena and materials engineering, interspersed with guest speakers from inside and outside academia to show career paths. 

3.002 Materials for Energy and Sustainability – 3 units

Materials play a central role in the ongoing global transformation towards more sustainable means of harvesting, storing, and conserving energy, through better batteries, fuel cells, hydrogen electrolyzers, photovoltaics, and the like. Methods for producing materials such as cement, steel, ammonia, and ethylene, which rank amongst today’s largest industrial emitters of greenhouse gases, are being re-invented. Much of this work is taking place at MIT and surrounding cleantech startups. This class discusses the underlying science of selected new technologies, the challenges which must be overcome, and the magnitude of their potential impact. Visits to the startups behind each case study and meetings with the scientists and engineers creating these technologies are included. 

6.9101J 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. 

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. 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. 

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

Introduces students to contemporary Russia through analysis of major political, social, and cultural trends and addresses how they have developed due to the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Considers the role of identity, state propaganda, civil society — including those in exile — and music both as an instrument of political power and popular resistance. Study materials include academic and media articles, recent documentaries, and video interviews with prominent figures in Russian science and culture. 

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.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.259 Pathways to Social Justice at MIT and Beyond – 3 units

This course explores student pathways to support social change and social justice efforts within the greater Boston region and how students can be agents of change throughout their lives. Students are introduced to ethical, reciprocal, and community-informed approaches to creating social change through readings, lectures, class discussions, critical reflection, and direct service experiences with local community organizations. This course also aims to create a supportive community for undergraduate students to build a network of thoughtful MIT stakeholders dedicated to creating social good in the world. Subject offered by the PKG Public Service Center. 

IAP 2024

Note: There is no separate discovery-focused credit limit during IAP. The following subjects count towards the normal 12-unit IAP credit limit. 

SP.247A Exploring Majors at the Intersection of Engineering, Life Sciences, and Medicine – 1 unit

Interactive introduction to the several majors at MIT that offer curricula bridging engineering and life sciences, through presentations by faculty, current students, and alumni. Representatives of these departments (Courses 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 6-7, 7, 9, 10, and 20, as well as the BME minor) cover aptitudes of typical students, culture, class offerings and roadmaps, and unique opportunities. Provides first-year students practical advice about how to select, prepare for and thrive in each major. One-unit version of SP.247 does not include work outside of class.

SP.256 Informed Philanthropy in Theory and Action – 2 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.