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 9 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. 

Subjects are listed according to the term in which they are offered, so be sure to check out the IAP and Spring 2021 offerings as you think ahead to your IAP and spring classes.

Fall 2020 Subjects

1.008 Solving Big Engineering Problems– 3 units

Introduction to big engineering problems that span our built infrastructure and natural environment. Topics promote high-level thinking and basic problem-solving skills for societal problems in the domains of civil and environmental engineering. Lectures based on case studies that emphasize key challenges and opportunities in the areas of digital cities, cyber-physical infrastructure systems (transportation, logistics, power), engineering of natural resources (land, water, energy), and sustainable and resilient design under the changing environment. Students collaborate to identify basic modeling issues, explore analysis tools, and engage in teamwork to discuss the design and implementation of new technologies, policies, and systems in the real-world. Laboratory and field visits illustrate interesting natural phenomena and new engineering applications. 

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

Facilitates the exploration of architecture, art and design majors and minors at MIT. Also points to the presence of design in a variety of careers. A selection of MIT faculty and alumni from various disciplines lecture and lead discussions on the role of design in their respective area of expertise. To help students understand the breadth of design thinking, there will be visits to local architecture and design firms, as well as companies in various disciplines with design departments. Students interview an MIT alum currently working as an architect or designer at their office, then present what they discovered to the class. 

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

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.S03 Transportation Shaping Sustainable Urbanization: Connections with Behavior, Urban Economics and Planning– 2 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.

11S.189 Intro to Computational Thinking in Cities

This course is an introductory course that explores the intersection of computer science and urban planning. It is intended to highlight the Department of Urban Science and Planning as well as the new 11-6 major, Urban Science and Planning with Computer Science for freshman and sophomores who are in the process of deciding their major.

 

The first half of the class will explore the history of computational approaches in urban planning between circa 1950 and 2020. The second half will focus specifically on urban science topics that align with topics taught in 6.0002: Introduction to Computational Thinking and Data Science.

 

The motivation for this course is to highlight how computer science may inform and impact how cities are conceptualized, planned, designed, regulated and managed. We will talk about how technology can help solve issues we see in city development and, importantly, how technology cannot solve certain problems. We will talk about how socioeconomics, race, and social behaviors intertwine with quantitative and solution-oriented approaches in transportation, real estate, climate resiliency, housing in the real world.

 

Throughout the semester, we will have guest lectures from academia and industry talk about their journey in urban planning and computer science. Most lectures will require brief readings in preparation of class conversations. Depending on circumstances (COVID19), some weeks we may ask you to explore the city in which you are located to encounter the topics of this class first-hand. Other than that, there will be no major assignments for this class.

 

14.009 Economics and Society's Toughest Problems– 3 units

Should we trade more with China? Why are some countries poor, and some countries rich? Why are the 1% getting richer? Should the US have universal health insurance? How can you fix failing schools? What should we do to prevent the next Great 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 will feature a series of lectures by MIT's economics faculty, showing how their cutting-edge research can help you answer these questions and more. 

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. 

20.S901 Special Subject in Biological Engineering - 3 units

In this course, students will learn how to ask research questions and use the steps in the experimental method to test hypotheses.  Also, students will be introduced to best practices in basic data analysis and interpretation.  Additional topics will include exploring experimental failures / unexpected results and troubleshooting.  The goal of this course is to prepare students for undergraduate research opportunities and laboratory-based coursework. Course schedule: 20.S901 will meet weekly on Monday at 2p (Boston time!). Enrollment: Open to all first year & second year students (only in Fall semester) 

Discussion Topics: 

  1. Research questions
  2. Experimental design
  3. Data analysis / Interpretation
  4. Unexpected results vs Experimental failure
  5. Troubleshooting experiments
  6. Ethics in science research

Expectations: This class is discussion-based and dependent on group participation.  With this, it is important that students join the lectures on-time and are engaged.

21H.000 The History of Now - 1 unit

Exposes students to the study of history for its own sake and also for a deeper understanding of the present and the future. Explores current events in a historical perspective. Each week a different MIT historian will discuss their research in the context of current national and global events. 

SP.246 The Future: Global Challenges and Questions– 3 units

Explores global challenges through the perspective of an array of majors / disciplines at MIT. Generative and creative questioning activities and reflective discussions introduce the intellectual breadth at the Institute and provide students with tools to develop their ability to question the world and their place in it. Aims to inspire and guide students to consider how they will shape and become a part of the future they want. 

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. Instructors: R. Lavi, E. Crawley, M. Bathe, B. Mitra.

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

Explore hard choices, ethical dilemmas, and the risk of failure in the humanitarian, tech, climate change, and health sectors. Students explore case studies presented by MIT alums, faculty, staff, students or community practitioners, and engage in simulations and facilitated discussions. Case studies are based on conundrums that MIT stakeholders have faced while trying to make the world a better place. They will expose students to ethical frameworks and standards for social engagement and intervention. Students will consider the choices faced, stakeholders involved, possible impact, and relevant MIT resources. Each student will produce a set of guiding questions to ask of themselves and others as they embark on social change work and will access a network of experienced MIT stakeholders.

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. Subject can count toward the 9-unit discovery-focused credit limit for first year-students. Limited to 25; preference to first-year students. 

IAP 2021 Subjects

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

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.361 Majors and Careers Through a Terrascope Lens

MIT alumni pursuing sustainability-oriented careers describe ways in which their major and career choices have provided them with the lenses through which they see the problems they work to solve. Students participate in guided reflection, focused on making the discussion relevant to their own personal situations and affinities. Students strengthen their ability to think deeply about their goals, for MIT and for the world beyond, and come into direct contact with alumni who can continue to mentor them through this process. Open to all undergraduates, regardless of Terrascope affiliation.

Spring 2021 Subjects

2.000 Explorations in Mechanical Engineering

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. 

2.7231J/6.9021J/16.6621J Introduction to Design Thinking and Innovation in Engineering

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

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. 

5.002J/10.380J/HST.438J Viruses, Pandemics, and Immunity

Covers the history of infectious diseases, basics of virology, immunology, and epidemiology, and ways in which diagnostic tests, vaccines, and antiviral therapies are currently designed and manufactured. Examines the origins of inequities in infection rates in society, and issues pertinent to vaccine safety. Final project explores how to create a more pandemic-resilient world. 

10.000 Engineering Molecular Marvels: Careers and ChemE at MIT

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. 

12.00 Frontiers and Careers in Earth, Planets, Climate, and Life

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. 

12.12 Nature's Sandbox: The History of Ancient Environments, Climate, and Life

Series of field adventures to survey Earth's history and landscape through a combination of online and in-person instruction, with virtual field trips to Svalbard, Norway, the Death Valley area and Northern Minnesota. In these key sites, students explore the interactions between Earth's surface environments and life, and critical transitions in each. Includes weekly in-class paper discussions and experiential exercises. Three optional one-day field trips provide opportunity to explore the amazing sedimentary record preserved close to MIT. 

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

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.251 How to Change the World: Experiences from Social Entrepreneurs

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.254 Low Carbon Energy in Research and Application

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

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. The 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.