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First Year Advising Seminars 2022: Titles K-Z

Below are the seminars with Titles A-J that are being offered in AY2022-23. You will apply for the seminars of interest to you by June 13.

MAS.A02 Kids, Coding, and Creativity 

  • Mitchel Resnick 
  • Media Lab 
  • Meets: TBA

Want to learn how to design new technologies to engage young people in creative, collaborative, and equitable learning experiences? In this seminar, you’ll get a chance to explore prototypes of new creative tools and activities being developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the MIT Media Lab — the group that created the Scratch programming language and online community, used by millions of kids around the world. The seminar will meet once a week over dinner (7:00-9:00pm), led by Professor Mitchel Resnick and other educators, researchers, and developers in the Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the MIT Media Lab.

Mitchel Resnick has been Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab for 30 years. His Lifelong Kindergarten research group has developed technologies and initiatives, such as Scratch and the Clubhouse Network,
that expand creative-learning opportunities for young people around the world. The goal: To help young people from diverse backgrounds develop their ideas, their interests, and their voices, so they can lead meaningful, fulfilling lives and become active contributors in their communities.


20.A06 Making for Biological Engineers, Hands-On! 

  • Justin Buck 
  • Biological Engineering 
  • Meets: TBA

What can biological engineers make? Engineers build, tinker, invent, and solve; we learn through the successes and failures of doing and MAKING! Join us in MIT’s first and only wet-lab makerspace to see what you can make as a chemical engineer. Can a biological engineer take a photograph using bacteria? Sure can! Can we make living muscle tissue that could move a robot? Yup! Can Biological Engineers fold DNA into interesting and useful shapes like origami?  Absolutely! Students will pick two hands-on projects for the semester and experience making as a biological engineer. Class meets in 26-033/26-035, The Huang-Hobbs BioMaker Space, and meets jointly with 10.A01.

Justin Buck is an instructor in the Departments of Biological and Chemical Engineering and the director of MIT?s Huang-Hobbs BioMaker Space. Dr. Buck?s interests are in water, energy, and environment, and his training is a blend of engineer, scientist and entrepreneur.


10.A01 Making for Chemical Engineers, Hands-On! 

  • Prof. Kristala Prather, Chemical Engineering 
  • Justin Buck, Chemical Engineering 
  • Meets: TBA

What can chemical engineers make? Engineers build, tinker, invent, and solve; we learn through the successes and failures of doing and MAKING! Join us in MIT’s first and only wet-lab makerspace to see what you can make as a chemical engineer. Can a ChemE make a car? Why not? Can a ChemE make engineer proteins and produce chemical inside of microorganisms? Of course! Can chemical engineers remediate environmental contaminants and produce clean water? Absolutely! Students will pick two hands-on projects for the semester and experience making as a chemical engineer. Class meets in 26-033/26-035, The Huang-Hobbs BioMaker Space, and meets jointly with 20.A01.

Kristala L. J. Prather is the Arthur D. Little Professor and Executive Officer of Chemical Engineering at MIT. She received an S.B. degree from MIT in 1994 and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley (1999), and worked 4 years in BioProcess Research and Development at the Merck Research Labs prior to joining the faculty of MIT.  Her research interests are centered on the design and assembly of recombinant microorganisms for the production of small molecules.  Prather is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions. She has been recognized for excellence in teaching with the C. Michael Mohr Outstanding Faculty Award for Undergraduate Teaching in the Dept. of Chemical Engineering (2006, 2016), the MIT School of Engineering Junior Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching (2010), and through appointment as a MacVicar Faculty Fellow (2014), the highest honor given for undergraduate teaching at MIT. https://cheme.mit.edu/profile/kristala-l-jones-prather/ 

Justin Buck is an instructor in the Departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the director of MIT?s Huang-Hobbs BioMaker Space. Dr. Buck?s interests are in water, energy, and environment, and his training is a blend of engineer, scientist, and entrepreneur.


18.A34 Mathematical Problem Solving (Putnam Seminar) 

  • Prof. Yufei Zhao 
  • Mathematics 
  • Meets: MW1 (2-132)

Note: Special note to students applying to 18.A34: in your first essay response, please include a brief statement highlighting your mathematical background, e.g., top accomplishments in math competitions, participation in math camps, research, advanced readings. This is the only FAS that is 6- units. 

The seminar prepares students for the Putnam Mathematical Competition in December. Each week, one meeting will be a lecture (often a guest lecture by an upperclassman) on a specific topic, and the other meeting will be student presentations of homework problems, where there will be emphasis on developing good classroom presentation skills. There will be weekly problem sets where students are asked submit six problems from a longer list of problems with ranging difficulty levels related to the topic of the week’s lecture. Participation in the Putnam Competition (first Saturday of December) is required. This seminar is most suitable for students with previous experience in mathematical Olympiads.

Yufei Zhao is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics. His research area is combinatorics. Prof. Zhao received his SB and PhD both from MIT. He participated in the Putnam Seminar as a freshman and then became a three-time Putnam Fellow. Prof. Zhao has been teaching 18.A34 since joining the faculty in 2017, and he recently received a First Year Advisor Award.


6.A01 Mens et Manus: Making with Technology 

  • Prof. Dennis Freeman, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science 
  • Dawn Wendell, Mechanical Engineering 
  • Meets: TBA

This seminar provides opportunities to learn to use modern fabrication techniques such as laser cutting and 3D printing, state-of-the-art microcontrollers to design and build your own novel brushless motor, or methods of creative computation and programmable lights at the intersection of art and technology.  Learn how to apply principles from your classroom experiences in physics and math to real-world design problems, and then build your design using MIT’s state-of-the-art prototyping facilities.

Dennis Freeman is a Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He has been active in undergraduate teaching since joining the faculty. He helped to develop and teach 6.01: “Introduction to EECS via Robotics” which introduces software engineering, feedback and control, circuits, probability, and planning in a series of hands-on activities involving a mobile robot. He has also developed a number of hands-on projects for first-year students.


7.A12 Nucleic Acids: The Structural Basis of Genetic Material 

  • Dr. Shuguang Zhang 
  • Biology 
  • Meets: TBA

Since the discovery of the structure of the DNA double helix in 1953 by Watson and Crick, the information on detailed molecular structures of DNA and RNA, namely, the foundation of genetic material, has expanded rapidly. This discovery is the beginning of the “Big Bang” of molecular biology, biotechnology and modern medicine. The principles of nucleic acid structures stem from the basic chemical interaction, especially in structural compatibility and chemical complementarity. Complementarity plays a key role in determining genetic heredity, i.e., heredity information is passed through generations, both in a conservative and evolutionary manner. Complexity often stems from simplicity. The structure of nucleic acid is no exception. In this seminar we will discuss, from a historical perspective and current development, the importance of pursuing the detailed structural basis of genetic materials. Weekly readings and regular attendance are expected.

Shuguang Zhang is currently at the Center for Bits and Atoms in the Media Lab. He received his PhD in genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology from University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). He is a past American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow and a Guggenheim Fellow, Fellow of National Academy of Inventors. He is a Foreign Corresponding Member of Austrian Academic of Science. Shuguang is interested in studying the structural basis of molecular biology, biological materials, and the origins of life. He and his colleagues discovered a class of self-assembling oligopeptides, “Molecular Lego,” with applications in biomaterials science and more. Dr. Zhang will share how he founded his startup from this curiosity-driven research.


15.A03 Operations Research in Our Everyday Lives 

  • Prof. Stephen Graves 
  • Sloan School of Management 
  • Meets: M3.30-5 (24-112)

Who says that mathematics isn’t fun or useful? We will explore a branch of mathematics called operations research (OR), which is defined as the science of decision making. The origins of operations research date back to World War II, when the development of new mathematical methods was instrumental in locating enemy submarines. The application of these methods dramatically altered the course of the battle in the North Atlantic. Mathematical models developed with OR techniques can be applied to things that affect our daily lives, such as allocation of dormitory assignments, optimization of your diet, the deployment of ambulance services in a large city, classroom scheduling, sports, or even gambling. Operations research has also been used in finding lost treasures as well as in determining strategies for fighting AIDS. By examining interesting applications, we will take a close look at this fascinating field. The seminar will be organized around weekly sessions including readings of application articles, problem solving and computer exercises, and a project to understand how OR can apply to our daily lives.

Steve Graves is the Abraham J. Siegel Professor of Management Science at the Sloan School. His professional interests are in the broad area of manufacturing systems and supply chains, which are rich areas for the application of operations research methods. Steve is an avid sports fan with interests in all of the local sports teams.


7.A01 Pandemics: Past, Present, and Future 

  • David Housman 
  • Biology 
  • Meets: TBA

We will study the molecular biology and genetics of pandemics of the past and present to better understand the ways in which the current pandemic is likely to evolve and to critically evaluate strategies to control the pandemic and/or improve clinical outcomes. We will understand some of the long-term effects of infection in past pandemics. We will study how infectious disease has selected for changes in the human genome which cause genetically based diseases. We will use our understanding of pandemics to consider what programs we might recommend to prevent or manage pandemics in the future.

David has led research projects at MIT to discover the genes for many human diseases including hereditary forms of cancer, neurological diseases such as Huntington’s disease, and muscle diseases such as myotonic dystrophy. His research group has also been engaged in research on virus contributions to disease, most recently working on the role of Epstein-Barr virus in autoimmune diseases and identifying pharmacological interventions which may be effective in these diseases. Over the past several decades he has taught courses in human disease at MIT and human genetics at our joint HST program with Harvard Medical School.


ES.A40 Pod Power! Making Sound into Stories (about Science or Anything Else) 

  • Paola Rebusco, Experimental Study Group 
  • Wade Roush, EAPS 
  • Meets: F3 (24-618)

Have you ever wondered how radio and podcast producers make their shows? With a little technology and a little instruction, anyone can do it. In this hands-on, ears-on seminar you’ll learn how to create a podcast episode, from capturing high-quality sound to writing a script, recording narration, editing digital tape, sound designing and scoring, and publishing the final MP3 file for the world to hear. Join us to explore this endlessly challenging craft. There’s no better way to improve your storytelling and communications skills.  

Paola Rebusco was born in Italy, near Lake Garda. She earned her master?s degree in theoretical physics from the University of Trieste (Italy) in 2003. She received her Ph.D. in astronomy from the Ludwig Maximillian University (Munich, Germany) and the International Max Planck Research School for Astrophysics in 2007. She then crossed the Atlantic and spent three years as a Pappalardo Post-Doctoral Fellow in physics at MIT. Paola is not only interested in teaching and theoretical astrophysics but also in how specialized knowledge is made publicly accessible. Apart from being the European Southern Observatory Network representative in the United States, Paola comments on scientific news for the Italian radio program Moebius and contributes to the Italian science magazine Newton. Paola loves traveling (especially to warm places), sailing, writing and reading, cooking and eating, and playing basketball with her husband. Read Paola?s webpage, http://space.mit.edu/home/pao, and her blog for the spring seminar Speak Italian with Your Mouth Full at http://speakcookitalian.blogspot.com.

Wade Roush is an independent technology journalist, audio producer, and consultant based in Cambridge, Mass. He is the host and producer of Soonish, a journalistic podcast about the technology and the future, and the co-founder of Hub & Spoke, a nonprofit collective of independent podcasts. He is the author of Extraterrestrials, part of the MIT Press?s Essential Knowledge series (2020), and editor of Twelve Tomorrows, a hard science fiction anthology published by MIT Technology Review and the MIT Press (2018), and has been a staff writer, editor, and/or columnist for Science, MIT Technology Review, Xconomy, and Scientific American. He has a B.A. in history and science from Harvard College and a PhD in the history and social study of science and technology from MIT.


6.A51 Prosody and Gesture: The Music and Dance of Language 

  • Dr. Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel 
  • Research Laboratory of Electronics 
  • Meets: R4 (36-705)

Spoken language is characterized not only by the words and sentences it contains, but also by its prosody, that is, the variations in pitch, timing, amplitude and voice quality that signal how words are grouped into phrases and which words are more prominent. For example, we can tell the difference between “It broke, out in Washington” and “It broke out, in Washington” by the location of the phrase boundary (represented in writing by a comma). Similarly, “Don’t TELL him about it” differs from “Don’t tell HIM about it”, because different words have more forceful pronunciation (represented by the capital letters). At the same time, speakers often move their hands and other body parts (eyes, face, torso) as they speak, in ways that enhance communication. In this seminar we will examine current theories of prosody and how it functions in typical healthy adults, consider some examples of co-speech gesture, and then consider how these two streams of communicative behavior may interact. There will be opportunity to learn how to label prosody in speech from both adults and children, and to examine the question of how spoken prosody interacts with the gestures of hands, head, eyes and torso that often accompany spoken utterances. This topic will be especially appealing if you are considering taking classes in EECS, Brain and Cognitive Science, Artificial Intelligence, Music, Foreign Languages, Linguistics, and Biology.

For more information: http://www.rle.mit.edu/speech/

Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel is a Principal Research Scientist in the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) and has been active since 1980 working with the Speech Communication Group, a multidisciplinary laboratory engaged in teaching and research on the production and perception of speech by humans and machines. She investigates the cognitive structures and processes involved in speech production planning, particularly at the level of speech sound sequencing and context-governed phonetic variation. Stefanie received her BA in Philosophy from Wellesley College and her PhD in Cognitive Psychology from MIT.


HST.A01 Quantitative Biology

  • Prof. Leonid Mirny 
  • Health Sciences and Technology and Physics 
  • Meets: 3-5pm

In the last decade, biomedical research became a quantitative, data-rich field. A single biological experiment can produce gigabytes of data. How can we use these data to understand biological processes and build physical models? Through interactive games, puzzles and seminars, we will learn how to estimate (guesstimate) numbers in biology and in everyday life. We will use this skill to learn about DNA and molecular motion, energy and evolution, human genetics, and the human brain. We will also discuss computational and algorithmic problems that emerge when large volumes of biological data need to be analyzed. Together we will read selected papers – classical publications about the discovery of the DNA double helix and modern ones about the sequencing of the human genome. By mimicking classical experiments in class, we will explore how physics and quantitative thinking can help to solve some of the most challenging problems in biology.

For more information: http://web.mit.edu/hst.a01

Leonid Mirny is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Medical Engineering and Sciences, and the Department of Physics at MIT. He has B.Sc. in Physics from Russia, M.Sc. in Chemistry from the Weizmann Institute in Israel, and Ph.D. in Biophysics from Harvard University. Prof. Mirny has been at MIT since 2001, helped to create MIT PRIMES program for high school students, and has been teaching several interdisciplinary classes such Quantitative Genomics (HST.508) and Statistical Physics in Biology (8.592). In his research he is interested in understanding how DNA is folded inside cells and in characterizing cancer development as an evolutionary process. His approach combines physics and data analysis to understand complex biological phenomena. His work has been published in leading scientific journals and featured on CNN and BBC news.


15.A04 Startups and Entrepreneurship: Hitchhiker?s Guide to the MIT Galaxy

  • Paul Cheek 
  • Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship 
  • Alfred Spector 
  • EECS
  • Meets: TBA

One of the things that makes MIT great is its rich and continuing legacy of entrepreneurship. A study done by MIT’s Martin Trust Center showed that the companies founded by MIT Alums would collectively form the 10th biggest economy in the world! More broadly, entrepreneurship is a powerful tool that is the basis for creating successful start-ups, but also a critical professional skill for leading a large organization or pursuing successful research.<br/><br/>This seminar provides a window on MIT based on the concepts and pragmatics of entrepreneurship. Led by a dynamic team of entrepreneurs in residence from the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and the MIT Department of EECS, it provides an overview of an entrepreneurial approach to professional life, as well as the specifics of the sometimes complex MIT entrepreneurial ecosystem. The seminar will take the students’ perspective, helping students understand how to apply entrepreneurship in ways appropriate to them. Guided by the seminar’s leaders, there will also be a diverse and dynamic group of guest speakers who lived the entrepreneurial journey themselves. Among the specifics, the class will discuss tools like the Orbit online entrepreneurship community platform, MIT’s 70+ innovation and entrepreneurship-focused courses, mentoring options like the Trust Center’s Entrepreneurs in Residence or the Venture Mentoring Service, and organizations like StartLabs and MIT Sandbox.

Paul Cheek is a serial tech entrepreneur, entrepreneurship educator, and software engineer. He is a Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, and the Co-Founder and CTO of Oceanworks. Paul was MIT’s first Hacker in Residence and has since taught, mentored, and advised thousands of entrepreneurs around the world. Each year Paul teaches hundreds of undergraduate, graduate, and PhD students in the “New Enterprises” course, which is believed to be the oldest entrepreneurship course in the country, and has also taught the advanced entrepreneurship course, “Building an Entrepreneurial Venture: Advanced Tools and Techniques.” As co-founder and CTO of Oceanworks, a for-profit company with a mission to end plastic pollution, he has developed a platform and traceability system to provide corporations with a trusted source for a variety of quality recycled ocean plastic materials at competitive prices. In the past two years, Oceanworks has diverted thousands of tonnes of plastic from the ocean, served hundreds of corporate customers in over 30 countries, and enabled the launch of a variety of high-profile sustainable products such as Clorox ocean plastic trash bags, Sperry ocean plastic boat shoes, and YKK ocean plastic zippers. You can learn more about Paul on his website.

Alfred Spector is a Visiting Scholar at MIT. For five years ending in mid-2020, he was Chief Technology Officer and Head of Engineering at Two Sigma, a firm dedicated to using information to optimize diverse economic challenges. Prior to joining Two Sigma, Dr. Spector spent nearly eight years as Vice President of Research and Special Initiatives, at Google, where his teams delivered a range of successful technologies including machine learning, speech recognition, and translation. Prior to Google, Dr. Spector held various senior-level positions at IBM, including Vice President of Strategy and Technology (or CTO) for IBM Software and Vice President of Services and Software research across the company. He previously founded and served as CEO of Transarc Corporation, a pioneer in distributed transaction processing and wide-area file systems, and he was a tenured professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Spector received a bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University, where he was a Hertz Fellow. He is a Fellow of both the Association for Computing Machinery and the IEEE. He is an active member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Defense Science Board. Dr. Spector won the 2001 IEEE Kanai Award for Distributed Computing and the 2016 ACM Software Systems Award, the latter for his work on the Andrew File System (AFS).


24.A03 That’s Just Semantics: The Search for Meaning 

  • Prof. Kai von Fintel 
  • Linguistics and Philosophy 
  • Meets: TBA

“We create islands of meaning in the sea of information” (Freeman Dyson). In this seminar, we will explore a central feature of human nature: we are meaning-seeking engines. There are many ways of encoding and extracting meaning. We will talk about smoke signals, talking drums, alphabets, Universal Grammar, artificial languages, the problem of first contact, code breaking, Sherlock Holmes, the genetic code, multi-tasking, information overload, crowd intelligence, and much more. We will bring in ideas from information theory, cryptography, linguistics, logic, psychology, anthropology, computer science, philosophy, and literature. Our vigorous discussions will be based on regular short readings and articles.

Kai von Fintel is a professor in MIT’s Department of Linguistics and Philosophy and head of the linguistics program. His academic work is on meaning: semantics, pragmatics, and philosophy of language. He is founding co-editor of the open-access journal “Semantics and Pragmatics”, published by the Linguistic Society of America. He is a runner, cook, and soccer aficionado.


6.A48 The Physics of Energy 

  • Prof. Steven Leeb 
  • Electrical Engineering and Computer Science 
  • Meets: TBA

Note: Special Sign-up Instructions: There are two sections of The Physics of Energy (4.A22 and 6.A48), each led by a faculty member who will be the seminar leader/ first-year advisor to the eight first-years in his section. The two seminar groups will meet jointly from time to time. You may list one or two of the sections among your seminar choices.

Welcome to MIT! If you are coming because you love building, let this seminar be your red carpet. You will be meeting once a week with three faculty who love building cool systems. We will learn about MIT together while we are understanding and building exciting systems that use and convert energy. We will drive an electric go-cart and compare it to a gasoline-powered vehicle. You will design and build your own set of stereo speakers and a power amplifier to audio system you can keep. Well look at motors and circuits to control these devices. We will be working in an amazing new prototyping laboratory, and you will get to develop an energy experiment of your own design. Join us!

Steven Leeb will be the advisor to the first-years in this section 6.A48. Steve is an electrical engineer interested in making things move. Among other research pursuits, he is working to develop synthetic muscles from a polymer material and to make fluorescent lights that talk. He enjoys teaching, swimming, cooking, eating, and making things work.


4.A22 The Physics of Energy 

  • Prof. Leslie Norford 
  • Architecture 
  • Meets: TBA

Note: Special Sign-up Instructions: There are two sections of The Physics of Energy (4.A22 and 6.A48), each led by a faculty member who will be the seminar leader/ first-year advisor to the eight first-years in his section. The 2 seminar groups will meet jointly from time to time. You may list one, two, or all three of the sections among your seminar choices.

Welcome to MIT! If you are coming because you love building, let this seminar be your red carpet. You will be meeting once a week with three faculty who love building cool systems. We will learn about MIT together while we are understanding and building exciting systems that use and convert energy. We will drive an electric go-cart and compare it to a gasoline-powered vehicle. You will design and build your own set of stereo speakers and a power amplifier to audio system you can keep. We’ll look at motors and circuits to control these devices. We will be working in an amazing new prototyping laboratory, and you will get to develop an energy experiment of your own design. Join us!

For more information: https://architecture.mit.edu/subject/fall-2018-4a22

Les Norford will be the advisor to section 4.A22. Les is a mechanical engineer who teaches in the Department of Architecture and has a special interest in environmental issues. He’s studied buildings and how people live and work in them around the world. Les earned his BS in engineering science from Cornell University and his PhD in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University.


11.A11 Topics in International Development

  • Prof. Wesley Harris 
  • Aeronautics and Astronautics 
  • Meets TBA

This seminar introduces first-years to a methodology for approaching communities to identify, understand, and solve problems in an urban or rural international development context. By working extensively with a local or virtual community, students will learn to apply a variety of social science and engineering tools, methods, and practices to clarify international development problems. Using an applied problem-solving approach, students will focus on solutions to micro-projects in international development. In this seminar, students will learn an effective and impactful method to approach developing communities, understand problems, and structure useful solutions. Hands-on solutions leading to scalable innovations of specific solutions to problems will constitute the primary activity of this seminar. Students will be expected to conceive, design, and build innovated solutions/projects/methods such as producing fertilizer from protein waste, fish feed from chicken feathers, water irrigation systems in remote regions, arresting the growth of deserts, etc. This seminar is an introduction to iHouse. iHouse is a living/learning community located in New House Residence Hall. iHouse is focused on designing, building, and implementing micro-projects that impact developing communities. This seminar is mandatory for first-years who choose to reside in iHouse. If you plan to reside in iHouse, please list 11.A11 among your seminar choices on the advising application. There is limited space for non-iHouse first-years.

For more information: http://web.mit.edu/ihouse/

Wesley Harris will be the advisor to the first-years in this seminar. He is the Head of New House Residence Hall. Prof. Harris is former Head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and former Associate Provost.