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First Year Advising Seminars: Fall 2024

Below are descriptions of the first year advising seminars (FASes) that are being offered in Fall 2024.

In choosing a FAS, try not to focus too sharply on what you think your major might be. Many MIT students find themselves as seniors following very different paths than they anticipated when they were first-year students. Keep your mind open to other possibilities.

Seminars are one way to explore some of MIT’s richness right at the beginning of your college career, and are also a chance to try out a topic you might be interested in pursuing later in more depth. Most seminars are 3 units of credit.

All students select their preferred advising option via our online advising application.

Fall 2024 First Year Advising Seminars

2.A49 The Engineering and Physics of Radio Controlled Flying

  • Prof. Daniel Frey, Mechanical Engineering
  • Schedule: TBA

In this seminar, students will learn about the technologies underlying radio controlled airplanes. The topics will include flight mechanics, structures, propulsion, electronics, and mechanical design of actuation systems for control surfaces. Students will have the opportunity to experience both simulated and real flying and well as construction and/or modification of fixed wing aircraft.

Dan Frey is a professor of Mechanical Engineering and faculty director of D-Lab. His research concerns design processes and methods including robust design — ways of making systems work despite adverse conditions like manufacturing variability, wear, and deterioration. He is a commercially rated pilot and RC flying and model building enthusiast.

3.A04 Blacksmithing and Physical Metallurgy

  • Mr. Michael Tarkanian, Materials Science and Engineering
  • Schedule: TBA

Physical metallurgy encompasses the relationships between the composition, structure, processing history and properties of metallic materials. In this seminar you’ll be introduced to metallurgy in a particularly “physical” way. We will focus on blacksmithing forging hot iron but may also venture into metal casting, machining, and welding, using both traditional and modern methods. The seminar meets once per week for an evening laboratory session, and once per week for discussion of issues in materials science and engineering that tie in to the laboratory work. Students will begin by completing some specified projects and progress to fabricating pieces of their own design.

Mike Tarkanian is a lecturer in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. His career as a materials scientist began in 1996 when he enrolled in a freshman advising seminar dealing with ancient technology and culture. Mike has been a member of the DMSE since then, as a student (BS ’00 and MS ’03), research affiliate, and staff member. Mike’s career and educational path is evidence that, at MIT, the simple choice of an advising seminar can result in profound experiences and unexpected opportunities.

4.A02 DesignPlus: Exploring Design Across MIT

  • John Ochsendorf, Architecture
  • Paul Pettigrew, Architecture
  • Meets: T12 (N52-337)

This seminar will help first-year students to explore possibilities in design across many fields at MIT. Design is a creative and interdisciplinary means of discovering problems and solutions. This seminar will help first-year students connect with design-oriented peers and faculty, and learn about ways to build design into the rest of their MIT education, regardless of major. The seminar is flexible to account for diverse student interests within the field of design. Through guest speakers, design exercises, and site visits, students will gain a broad perspective on designing and making across MIT.

Enrollment limited to students in the DesignPlus First Year Learning Community.

John Ochsendorf is professor in Course 1 (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Course 4 (Architecture). He knows the MIT campus very well, having lived on campus as a head of house for seven years from 2010-2017 and having chaired the 2016 campus centennial celebrations. Like most professors, he is a student at heart and he looks forward to learning as we explore MIT together in this seminar.

6.A06 First.nano – Fabricate Your Own Solar Cell in MIT.nano Clean Room

  • Jesus del Alamo, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Jorg Scholvin, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Schedule: TBA

Take a peek at the nanoworld at the brand new clean-room facilities of MIT.nano and become the nano-engineer that you have always wanted to be! Decked out in a bunny suit at the ultra-clean facilities of MIT.nano, this seminar will offer you a hands-on experience fabricating and testing a silicon solar cell. With us, you will learn about Si nanotechnology and solar cells physics and testing. Marvel at how awesome and mysterious the world looks and behaves at the nanoscale.

Jesus del Alamo is the Donner Professor and Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT. He became fascinated with semiconductors as an undergraduate student at the Polytechnic University of Madrid where he was involved in solar cell research. His current research interests are focused on nanoelectronics based on novel semiconductors and new material systems and physical principles such as ferroelectrics and ionic devices.

Jorg Scholvin grew up in Germany and came to MIT as an undergraduate in 6-3. A fascination with microfabrication resulted in a switch to 6-1 and a Ph.D. on CMOS technology for RF power applications. After working at UBS in CT for three years, Jorg returned to MIT working on research combining microfabrication and neuroengineering, and co-founded an SBIR-funded company that commercialized the devices. In 2018, Jorg joined MIT.nano as the Assistant Director of User Services at Fab.nano, where he acts as technical consultant to researchers joining and using the fabrication facility.

6.A48 The Physics of Energy

  • Prof. Steven Leeb, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Schedule: 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/ freshman advisor to the eight freshmen 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 freshmen 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.

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

  • Dr. Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel, Research Laboratory of Electronics
  • Schedule: TBA

Spoken language is characterized not only by words and sentences, but also by 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 here 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 in models of speech production planning. 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, or Biology.

For more information:

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.

7.A18 Genes in the News

  • Dr. Ky Lowenhaupt, Biology
  • Schedule: TBA

A lesson from current biology – you are not alone. In fact, you are not all one. Every human is a village, or maybe a universe made of human cells, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and we have not finished taking the census. Every player has a role in health or disease, and the microbiome are not just interlopers who are growing on or in you. We will select topics of interest to the members of the seminar with a focus on the human microbiome. Would you like to know more about fecal transplantation as therapy? The role of the gut microbiome in mental health? The lung microbiome is being investigated as a weapon against CoVID-19. You will suggest questions that intrigue you and use our seminar to investigate some of them. Each student will select a favorite from among our topics and lead a discussion on it. Everyone will be expected to read about all topics and actively participate in lively discussions.

Ky Lowenhaupt is a Lab Manager in the Center for Synthetic Biology. As a researcher, she used a variety of biochemical and biophysical approaches to study the ways in which structural features of DNA affect cell function. Her interests are broadened by her artistic daughter, her involvement in theater, and her general curiosity about things. No matter what the subject, she likes to know what we really know, and how we know it.

8.A06 Accounting, Corporate Finance, and the Real World

  • Matthew Cubstead, Physics
  • Meets: R9-10.30 (4-303)

Starts with a basic introduction to financial accounting (the ABCs of accounting principles, cash flow, and balance sheets) and then delves into issues of corporate finance. Topics include the time value of money, the corporate cost of capital, balance sheet analysis, fraud, and financial forecasting. There will be a few real-life case studies and discussions of actual events/mergers/market crashes, etc. No prior accounting or economics experience required.

Matt Cubstead is the Administrative Officer of the Physics Department. He has an MBA in Finance and worked for several years as a financial consultant and then as a Vice-President in the corporate lending area of a major national bank.

8.A22 Black Holes, the Accelerating Universe, the Disordered Cosmos

  • Prof. Edmund Bertschinger, Physics
  • Meets: M EVE (7-8.30 PM) (4-251)

This seminar will explore questions about astrophysics, its human dimensions, and more. What have we learned about spacetime and what mysteries remain? Who explores these questions, and how? Who is missing from the history of knowledge, and why? Can curiosity and justice co-exist in cosmology? This seminar will explore these questions and more. Attendees will read and discuss A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking and The Disordered Cosmos by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein.

Ed Bertschinger is Professor of Physics with an affiliation in the Program in Women’s and Gender Studies. His research interests include both theoretical astrophysics (gravitation, cosmology, and numerical methods) and the social sciences (physics education and how change happens in higher education). Prof. Bertschinger was the first in his family to graduate from college. He received his BS in physics from Caltech (after being declined admission at his top three colleges including MIT) and his PhD in Astrophysical Sciences from Princeton University in 1984, before joining MIT’s faculty in 1986. Prof. Bertschinger is passionate about education and feels strongly that more must be done to increase diversity and inclusion within the university and in the fields of science and engineering. Among the many honors he has received in his career are the Physics Department’s Buechner Teaching Prize for his undergraduate and graduate classes in general relativity, the Outstanding Freshman Advisor Award, and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award from MIT.

10.A01 Hands-on Making in Chemical Engineering

  • Kristala Prather, Chemical Engineering
  • Justin Buck, Biological Engineering
  • Schedule: TBA

Chemical engineers are behind virtually all of things you encounter on a daily basis! Chemical engineers remediate environmental contaminants, produce clean water, and generate clean energy. A ChemE can harness reactions to power and control a car. Chemical engineers engineer proteins and produce chemicals leveraging biology! Chemical engineering principles can even be used to remove CO2 from the air. Join us to experience chemical engineering hands-on through a project which may include: ChemE Car, Water Treatment & Reuse, Bioreactors and Metabolic Engineering, Bacterial Photography & Optogenetic E. coli, Lateral Flow Assays, and ChemE Cube.

Kristala Prather

Justin Buck is a Principal Lecturer in the Departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the director of MITs Huang-Hobbs BioMaker Space. Dr. Bucks interests are in water, energy, and environment, and his training is a blend of engineer, scientist and entrepreneur.

10.A02 Hands-On Engineering, Squishy Style Making with Biology and Chemistry

  • Justin Buck, Chemical Engineering
  • M2-5, 26-033/26-035

Engineers build, tinker, invent, and solve; we learn through the successes and failures of doing; wet lab engineers are no exception. Excited by what the breakthroughs in biochemical technologies will bring to the 21st century and beyond? Do you want to create using tools other than the hard materials (e.g., wood, metal, plastic, silicon) of traditional makerspaces? Are you considering majoring in Course 10 or Course 20 and want a first-hand experience? Join us in the Huang-Hobbs BioMaker Space to see what you can engineer in the realm of the wet lab…with the squishy chemical and biological materials! Can you program a bacteria to take a photograph? Want to use CRISPR to genetically engineer yeast? Interested in engineering proteins for biotechnological application? Want to leverage microbes to treat water or produce chemicals or energy in a bioreactor? Want to build microfluidic devices? Do all of this and more in Huang-Hobbs BioMaker Space as you explore how your engineering capabilities can meaningfully improve the human condition. Students will pick two hands-on projects for the term.

NOTE: This seminar meets on Monday 2pm-5pm (cannot co-enroll in 6.100A/B due to conflict)

Justin Buck is a Principal Lecturer 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.A16 Exploring ChemE: Because the Molecules Matter!

  • Fikile Brushett, Chemical Engineering
  • Schedule: TBA

Question: What do chemical engineers actually do? Answer: Just about anything and everything!  This seminar is for those who are deciding what to study at MIT and would like more information about Chemical Engineering as a possible major. We will discuss adapting to college in your first year and address how to approach the choice-of-major decision. You will learn the basics of the ChemE curriculum and hear from a wide-range of guest speakers who studied chemical engineering on their various career paths. By the end of term, you will have a better understanding of what chemical engineers do, and hopefully you will have confidence in your choice of major, whatever it turns out to be!

11.A13 Environmental Justice: Law and Literature

  • Justin Steil, Urban Studies and Planning
  • Schedule: TBA

This seminar introduces frameworks for analyzing and addressing inequalities in the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens, particularly by race and by class. It will start by exploring the foundations of the environmental justice movement from the perspectives of law and social science. The seminar will introduce students to basic principles of the U.S. legal system, with a focus on constitutional law, civil rights law, and environmental law. The course will also engage literary representations of environmental justice and injustice and relate them to relevant legal cases. Through the course, students will be able to apply basic U.S. legal principles and conceptions of environmental justice to contemporary issues such as policy responses to climate change.

Justin Steil is an Associate Professor of Law and Urban Planning in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. His research examines legal and spatial dimensions of socio-economic inequality and strategies for advancing racial justice, particularly in the realms of housing policy, land use regulation, environmental justice, and immigration policy. He previously worked as advocacy director for a non-profit fighting predatory lending, planner for an environmental justice organization working with young people in the Bronx, program manager for a project bringing youth and prisoners into critical dialogues about justice, and trainer with a domestic violence crisis center instructing Ciudad Juarez police in the support of survivors of sexual assault.

12.A31 Build Your Own Climate Model

  • Glenn Flierl, Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
  • Schedule: TBA

Models play a critical role in understanding how the climate system works and predicting how climate will change. We will build and analyze models from the simple to the complex to understand both climate dynamics and the process of constructing computer models (in Python or Matlab or…).  We will start with simple overall energy balance, adding absorption of infrared radiation by greenhouse gases, then examining stochastic effects such as volcanic eruptions. Next we will examine the latitudinal structure and seasonal effects and the possibility of multiple climate states. When variations in both latitude and longitude are allowed, models can also have “weather” in the atmosphere and strong currents like the Gulf Stream or Kuroshio in the ocean. We may also look at data from more complex Earth-system models.

Glenn Flierl grew up in Ohio and, of course, became fascinated by the oceans. At least they certainly seemed more interesting than Lake Erie, and physical oceanography appeared to have better job prospects than building sets for Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. He now uses physics, math, and computers to help understand the Gulf Stream and ocean vortices, as well as the Great Red Spot.

15.A03 Operations Research in Our Everyday Lives

  • Prof. Stephen Graves, Sloan School of Management
  • Meets: T4 (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 learning about OR applications that provide a survey of OR methods and models.

Steve Graves is the Abraham J. Siegel Professor, Post Tenure, 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.

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

  • Paul Cheek, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship
  • Alfred Spector, EECS
  • Meets: T3-4.30 (E40-163)

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. 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 — whether they intend to start a business or be a leader in a university, not-for-profit, government entity, or corporation. 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).

16.A02 Topics in International Development

  • Prof. Wesley Harris, Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • Schedule: TBA

This seminar introduces first-year undergraduate students 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.

Prof. 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.

17.A90 Politics, Policy, and Political Science: What Does It All Mean?

  • Professor Andrea Campbell, Political Science
  • Dr. Katherine Hoss, Political Science
  • Meets: T3-5 (4-153)

Ever wonder why it takes 3 minutes to vote in some parts of the U.S. and hours in others? Or why dictators arise in some societies? Or how high the threat of nuclear war is now compared to the Cold War past? Or ever ask yourself whether misinformation can be successfully combatted? Or why some widespread problems get addressed by government policy and others don’t?  If you are curious about politics and policy, or about current events and why they happen, join us for a tour through the world of political science.  Each week faculty will share their insights on the topics they love. They will demonstrate how political scientists approach these questions and how they explore causes, consequences, and implications.  Perhaps you wonder how politics and policy might affect your future career.  Perhaps you are wondering where to apply the data science and analytical skills you plan to acquire at MIT.  Perhaps you’ve always followed current events and want to go deeper, or perhaps you’re a little unsure of politics and policy and want to know more.  Join us for a lively exploration of some of the most profound questions of our time. This seminar will explore the scope of political science, policy, and politics through conversations with faculty who research across the field. Topics include misinformation and democracy, dictatorships, nuclear war and AI, and why governments make the policy decisions they do. The seminar will give a broad overview of the role of methods and data in political science.

Professor Andrea Campbell has taught political science and public policy at MIT since 2005. Her interests include American politics, political behavior, public opinion, and political inequality. She is the author of many books: Policy Feedback: How Policies Shape Politics with Daniel Beland and R. Kent Weaver, Trapped in America’s Safety Net: One Family’s Struggle, The Delegated Welfare State: Medicare, Markets, and the Governance of Social Provision with Kimberly J. Morgan, and How Policies Make Citizens: Senior Citizen Activism and the American Welfare State. Professor Campbell completed her undergraduate education at Harvard University and her PhD at UC Berkeley. Professor Campbell serves as the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Course 17 and has recently been awarded a MacVicar Fellowship for undergraduate teaching. Her off-campus interests include playing clarinet in the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, baking, and travel.

Dr. Katherine Hoss joined the MIT community in 2019. Dr. Hoss is a lecturer and undergraduate academic administrator for Course 17 and the Administrative Director of MIT Washington Summer Internship Program. Dr. Hoss’ interests include political theory, American political thought, corruption, and the intersection of ancient and modern political thought. Dr. Hoss recently co-authored a book chapter, “Corruption and Congressional Design: the Federalist’s Dual Fear of the Abuse of Power and Abuse Of Liberty” in Scandal and Corruption in Congress. Dr. Hoss’ off campus interests include kickboxing, cooking, and raising her two toddlers.

18.A11 Mathematical Ways of Thinking

  • Larry Guth, Mathematics
  • Schedule: TBA

In this seminar, we’ll explore some ways that people study math, from how we learn math in classes to how researchers explore new ideas. We’ll talk about things like this: How do people find questions to think about? How do people learn a complicated new math idea? What do people do when they’re working on a problem and they get stuck? We’ll discuss different approaches to questions like these — different ways of thinking about math. Each week in seminar, we’ll try out one of these approaches on an example. And each week between classes, you can try it out on some math you’re thinking about in your other classes, or maybe something you’re interested in thinking about on your own.

I like teaching math, and I’ve wondered for a while about having a class about the process, instead of about certain material. When I was younger, I liked doing acting classes and tai chi classes. I have two dear kids at home now. It’s neat to see them grow up and see what they get excited about — mostly very different stuff from anything I was into.

18.A34 Mathematical Problem Solving (Putnam Seminar)

  • Prof. Yufei Zhao, Mathematics
  • Meets: MW1 (2-136)

Note: Special note to students applying to 18.A34: in your first essay response, please include a brief statement highlighting your mathematical background, 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.

20.A04 BioMaker Training

  • Maxine Jonas, Biological Engineering
  • Schedule: F2-5 (26-033/26-035)

Develop biological wet lab skills to apply to your independent projects or to UROPs. This first-year advising seminar gives you a jump start to your BioMaker Credential Certification. Twelve hands-on laboratory sessions step you through skills ranging from basic micropipetting to cutting-edge fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS). After the training session, demonstrate your proficiency on the assessment to earn your certification for that technique and wow your future UROP mentors with your skill mastery! Sessions include: Lab Safety & Lab Math & Solutions, Micropipette Use & UV/Vis Spectroscopy, Microbial Culture & Sterile Technique, DNA Isolation & Purification, Agarose Gel Electrophoresis, Restriction Digestion, Polymerase Chain Reaction, DNA Assembly, Microbial Transformation, Mammalian Cell Culture, Microscopy, and FACS.

20.A06 Hands-on Making in Biological Engineering

  • Douglas Lauffenburger, Biological Engineering
  • Justin Buck, Biological Engineering
  • Meets: T2-5 (26-033/26-035)

Biological engineers harness the power of living systems to solve problems! Biological engineers develop cutting edge therapeutics, medical devices, and diagnostics. Biological engineers design synthetic genetic circuits and engineer proteins for improved function. Biological engineers tackle problems in materials, sustainability, and agriculture. Join us in MIT’s BioMaker Space to see a glimpse of what you can make as a biological engineer. Students will join a hands-on engineering project which may include: Bacterial Photography & Optogenetic E. coli, Biobots, Lateral Flow Assays, Gene Editing with CRISPR, DNA Origami, Continuous Evolution of Proteins with Phage, and Biocementing.

Douglas Lauffenburger

Justin Buck is a Principal Lecturer in the Departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the director of MITs Huang-Hobbs BioMaker Space. Dr. Bucks interests are in water, energy, and environment, and his training is a blend of engineer, scientist and entrepreneur.

21M.A12 Arts at MIT

  • Stacy DeBartollo, Office of the Arts
  • Schedule: TBA

Eight out of every ten students at MIT have a strong background in the arts. It is no surprise then, that the arts at MIT are recognized around the globe, for being amongst the most innovative and cutting-edge. With renowned arts-faculty, programming, initiatives, and events, MIT continues to contribute to the blossoming arts-science tradition. This seminar focused on the arts is your opportunity to get behind the scenes and see how the arts influence design, entrepreneurship, and research at MIT. We will investigate the arts at MIT by visiting many of the labs and institutions working in the arts on campus, engaging with experts in the field.  We will take part in hands-on classes, learn new skills from arts faculty, and explore opportunities to collaborate on new projects relating to design and innovation.

For more information:

Stacy DeBartolo is the Finance and Operations Manager for the Arts at MIT and the MIT Center for Art, Science and Technology, and the Manager of the Student Art Association. Stacy has a B.A. in Art History from Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas, and an M.A. in Art History and Non-Profit Management from Tufts University here in Massachusetts. Having lived in the greater Boston area for 20 years, Stacy loves to introduce students to the arts opportunities at MIT and around the city.

21W.A01 Working With Others, Finding Yourself

  • Jane Abbott, Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication
  • Kristen Selheim, Residential and Community Life
  • Schedule: TBA

MIT is an astonishing community of makers, doers, problem-solvers, creators. As a member of the MIT community, you will find yourself making, doing, solving, and creating in concert with others. Collaboration is an art and a science, and inherently complex. Learning key concepts and strategies that power effective teams will give you lifelong advantages in this interconnected world. In this seminar, you will explore how to listen and be heard, how to manage the complexity of your brain, how to build trust, how to disagree productively, and build confidence in the face of difficult conversations. You will develop lasting relationships and challenge your sense of yourself. You will leave this experience a more skilled teammate as well as a more adept influencer of others. 

Jane Abbott is a lecturer in Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication, where she has taught communication and collaboration in robotics, physics, finance, astronomy, and atmospheric sciences, as well as in the MIT Prison Initiative. Prior to coming to MIT, she worked with teams in industry that were not producing as well as expected, where she learned a lot about what it takes to thrive in a collaborative setting. She is certified as a coach of Emotional Intelligence and has studied Constructive Dialogue, among other communication tools.

Kristen Selheim is the Associate Dean in Residential and Community Life. Kristen has over 15 years of working with students to become the best version of themselves. Kristen works with the many residential communities at MIT, and has lived on campus since she arrived at MIT over 10 years ago. She has extensive experience training and teaching in the areas of leadership, identity development, navigating and managing conflict, intercultural competence, and constructive dialogue. She currently serves as Head of House in the graduate residence 70 Amherst Street.

21W.A03 MIT, Explained

  • Christopher Peterson, CMS/Admissions
  • Schedule: TBA

The word “Institute” comes from the Latin for “custom,” or “way of habit.” More than brick and mortar, glass and steel, an institution is a thing made by people, over time. In this seminar, we will learn more about MIT as a organization with a past, present, and future, by hearing from leaders of major entities and initiatives that constitute the university (and what it is that they do all day), and reading selections that provide a “usable history” of contemporary relevance. This seminar may be especially well suited to anyone who is interested in effective, constructive student leadership at MIT by helping render visible the processes and principles that animate it, and so developing an accurate mental model of the Institute as a complex system.

Chris Peterson is an admissions officer, lecturer, and research affiliate at MIT, and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Coalition Against Censorship, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to fighting for free expression. He earned his S.M. from CMS in 2013, and has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the department on the relationship between the Internet and society.

CC.A10 Concourse Seminar

  • Prof. Anne McCants and Concourse Staff, Concourse Program
  • Meets: F12-2 (16-128)

Note: Special sign up instructions: If you are interested in being part of the Concourse Learning Community, you must list CC.A10 as your first choice on the Freshman Advising Seminars application. Concourse teaching staff will be the freshman advisors to all students who join the Concourse

The Concourse Fall Seminar supplements Becoming Human, our 12-unit fall humanities course. In Becoming Human, we consider a range of fundamental questions about such topics as the nature of happiness, justice, knowledge, love, and truth, taking as our guides the founders of the western intellectual tradition, the ancient Greeks. In the seminar every Friday, we further our understanding of these questions by examining more modern thinkers and by exploring intellectual and ethical quandaries at the heart of science, politics and philosophy. The seminar is a gathering of our whole community, students and faculty, for intellectual fellowship and lunch.

For more information:

Anne McCants studied economics, German, and history at Mount Holyoke College, and then completed her Masters degree in economics and Ph.D. in history at UCLA and UC Berkeley, respectively. She came to MIT in 1991 and is now a Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow. Her teaching is focused in the areas of European economic and social history and social science research methods. She is the author of Civic Charity in a Golden Age: Orphan Care in Early Modern Amsterdam (1997), and numerous articles on historical demography, material culture, and the standard of living in the Dutch Republic. She is currently engaged in two major projects: one examining the long-term roots of economic development with a particular focus on the role played by institutions of the family and gender equity, and developing new measures for the study of wellbeing; and the other an economic and institutional history of the movement to build cathedrals and other major churches in the Gothic style in northwestern Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. She serves as President of the International Economic History Association and Editor of the journal Social Science History. Her favorite ways to unwind are walking her dog Katie, cooking, working with fibers and textiles, and digging in the garden.

EC.A06 FLI into Fall

  • J. Alex Hoyt, Undergraduate Advising Center
  • Schedule: TBA

FLI into Fall is a community of first generation and/or low-income (FLI) first-year students that meets weekly to discuss your unique journey and shared experiences as FLI students at MIT. Throughout the semester, we will learn how to navigate the opportunities MIT offers in the classroom and beyond. Discussions will focus on adapting to MIT’s academic rigors, time management and study strategies, identifying personal strengths, participating in experiential learning, network building, and professional development exploration. The seminar will include contributions from current MIT undergraduates, guest presentations from MIT resources (e.g., Student Financial Services (SFS), Career Advising and Professional Development (CAPD), and UROP), plus more.

Alex Hoyt is the Assistant Dean for FLI Student Advising & Success in the Undergraduate Advising Center. In addition to leading FLI into Fall, Alex directs FLIPOP, MITs pre-orientation program for FLI incoming first-year students and oversees the FLI Student Executive Board. Prior to joining the UAC, Alex worked in the Office of the First Year and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). In both these roles Alex’s work has focused on supporting undergraduate students as they navigate MIT and beyond.

EC.A29 How to Beat the First Year and Establish Healthy Habits

  • Master Sergeant Adam VanDeWalle, Army ROTC
  • Schedule TBD

Incoming first-year students begin their first semester at MIT with little experiences away from home. While dorm room assignments and cafeteria availability ease the transition, many students struggle to manage their newfound independence. This seminar aims to increase your confidence as a first year navigating an unfamiliar environment by developing critical skills that can be used every day.

The dynamic course is broken up into three modules:

  • Develop life skills including communication, goal setting, time and stress management, and comprehensive fitness required in adulthood.
  • Familiarization with learning styles and critical thinking to increase educational maturity.
  • Introduction to leadership and how to leverage the necessary skills.

Taught by combat veterans who have led organizations of up to 120 people, this seminar will use classroom instruction, small group discussion, and practical exercises to develop important life skills in what will undoubtedly resonate with young adults and emerging leaders.

Location will be in the Army Classroom on the first floor of the MIT Army ROTC HQs across the street from the MIT Baseball Field (W59-201 Vassar Dr. 02139).

Master Sergeant Adam J. VanDeWalle is originally from Cedar Rapids, Nebraska. He joined the Army in 2022, where he has worked as a combat engineer with six overseas deployments in total. He is a former drill sergeant, has earned his bachelors degree in history and really enjoys teaching, which is what brought him to the Senior ROTC program in 2021.

EC.A790 Engineering, Art, and Science

  • Mr. Edward Moriarty, Edgerton Center
  • Christian Cardozo, Edgerton Center
  • Meets: T3-5 (4-409)

There is a surprising amount of context for the things we learn in our first year at the Institute. However, sometimes, when we go on to take the classes that reveal that context to us, the pressures of their deadlines, exams, and psets can get in the way of our qualitative understanding and appreciation of their material. It’s not unusual to hear people thinking more about deadlines than actual ideas… 

Such is the genesis of this seminar: a “sneak peek” of the interesting and essential classes at MIT, without the pressure of actually being in them—learning for learning’s sake!

No prereqs, no psets, no pressure.

We will learn about quantum mechanics, derive computer architecture, photograph explosions, laser cut pendulums, build circuits, write code, and break down AI. Your all-in-one Swiss army knife into MIT. 

A course by Christian Cardozo, an MIT alum and long-time teacher and advisor at the Institute. Joined this year by the award-winning Ed Moriarty, who also has socks older than Christian. Join us for the ride.

Ed Moriarty ’76, an instructor with the MIT Edgerton Center, has been around MIT off and on ever since he showed up as a freshman in 1971. He has worked in various departments and labs around the institute and has been involved in numerous projects ranging from large scale electric generation analysis packages, to the MIT Shakespeare Electronic Archive. He has been a member of the MIT Logarhythms, Chorallaries, and the BackLogs Quartet. As a resident of “strobe alley” Ed relies mostly on fun, hands-on, in-lab, experience for presenting concepts … a refreshing change of approach from most of the book-learning done around here. He is active with many MIT student clubs and teams as well as with high-school engineering outreach.

Christian Cardozo has been with MIT, in one capacity or another, since 2013: as a student and TA, as a coordinator for the Interphase program, as a lecturer at the Experimental Study Group (ESG), and now as an Instructor at the Edgerton Center. Christian’s passion is helping students tap into their *intrinsic* motivations for learning a subject, outside the pressures of deadlines and exams. Ultimately, he has seen that this helps students perform in their MIT classes and remain excited and curious everywhere else too! He has experienced MIT from the inside out, and loves mentoring and being present for his students. For more, see Christian’s website at

ES.A100 An Introduction to Maker Skills

  • David Custer, Experiential Study Group
  • Schedule: TBA

Introduction to making and use of MIT’s maker spaces intended to build skills needed for designing, conducting, and completing experiments and design projects, such as may be encountered in undergraduate classwork and research activities. Includes maker space training (i.e., wood shop, digital fabrication, and electronics fabrication) and open-ended design projects, with work evenly divided between class, homework, and maker space activities. Limited to [8] by makerspace training and scheduling; priority given to ESG students.

Dave Custer has been teaching hands-on, interdisciplinary subjects at MIT’s Experimental Study Group since he was a student in the program, over 40 years ago. After graduation, he spent a few years as an electrical engineer before returning to teach at MIT. He is also a long-standing lecturer in WRAP, the Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication unit of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies and Writing program where he teaches communication, primarily in mechanical and electrical engineering CI-Ms. In 2013, he was a recipient of the James A. and Ruth Levitan Award for Excellence in Teaching in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. He is a member and former president of the UIAA Safety Commission, the global standards organization for climbing and mountaineering equipment. Dave spends his free time in the vertical world.

ES.A101 Hack Yourself: Data-driven Wellbeing and Learning

  • Paola Rebusco, ESG
  • Ana Bell, EECS
  • Schedule: TBA

Take charge of your learning and well-being. In this seminar, you will unveil the why behind the pedagogy you see in some classes at MIT, and what you can do to improve your learning practices. Since being a good learner is deeply intertwined with positive feelings about yourself, the seminar will also introduce elements of positive psychology and the growth mindset, aimed at improving your quality of life. We will use elements of data science (data collection/cleaning, data visualization, statistics on the data, regression, classification, and communication/persuasion) to “prove” what we claim, analyzing real data. At the end of the semester, you will have some experience with tools you can use to “hack” yourself, but also to apply in other contexts and disciplines. No programming experience expected.

Paola Rebusco is a Senior Lecturer in Physics, with background in theoretical astrophysics and experience in public outreach.

Ana Bell is a Senior Lecturer in EECS, with experience teaching introductory programming and introductory data science.

HST.A01 Quantitative Biology

  • Prof. Leonid Mirny, Health Sciences and Technology and Physics 
  • Schedule: T3-5 (56-191)

In recent years, biomedical research has transformed into a data-intensive discipline, where single experiments can produce gigabytes of data. This seminar is designed to introduce students to the power of genomic data, algorithms, and physical models that together can help to understand the working of living systems. Students engage in interactive games, problem-solving sessions, and in-depth seminars aimed at honing their ability to estimate numerical values in both biological contexts and everyday situations. This foundational skill is pivotal in exploring key biological elements such as DNA and proteins, and in gaining insights into energy production and consumption, and evolutionary processes. The course delves into the intricate structure and function of proteins, the elaborate organization of DNA within the human genome, and the computational challenges of large-scale data analysis. Selected seminal papers will guide our journey—from classic discoveries of the DNA double helix to cutting-edge genome sequencing research. Hands-on activities recreate landmark experiments, providing a practical demonstration of how physics and quantitative analysis can tackle some of the most intricate challenges in biology. By blending theoretical knowledge with practical experimentation, this seminar offers a comprehensive platform for students to understand and innovate at the intersection of biology and quantitative sciences.

Leonid Mirny is a Distinguished Professor at the Institute of Medical Engineering and Science, and the Department of Physics at MIT. With an M.Sc. in Chemistry from the Weizmann Institute in Israel, and a Ph.D. in Biophysics from Harvard University, Professor Mirny brings a rich interdisciplinary background to his teaching. Since joining MIT in 2001, he has co-founded the MIT PRIMES program for high school students, and taught courses such as Quantitative Genomics (HST.508) and Statistical Physics in Biology (8.592). His research focuses on DNA organization within cells and the evolutionary dynamics of cancer development, integrating physics and data analysis to unravel complex biological phenomena. His contributions have been recognized in prominent scientific journals and featured in media outlets.

MAS.A02 Designing Creative Technologies for Kids

  • Mitchel Resnick, Media Lab
  • Schedule: TBA

This playful, friendly seminar is offered by the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group, which developed the Scratch programming language and online community. We’ll meet over dinner to explore how new technologies can engage kids in creative, collaborative, equitable learning experiences — and we’ll try out prototypes of new tools being developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten group. Each week, there will also be opportunities to share what’s going well, and what challenges have come up, as you navigate your first semester.

Mitchel Resnick is Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab. His Lifelong Kindergarten research group has developed technologies and initiatives (including Scratch, LEGO Mindstorms, and the Clubhouse Network) that expand creative learning opportunities for kids around the world. The goal: To cultivate caring communities that enable young people from diverse backgrounds to develop their ideas, their interests, and their voices.

MAS.A21 Choosing Problems Wisely

  • Prof. Kevin Esvelt, Media Arts & Sciences
  • Schedule: TBA

Which problems are so important that you should devote years of your life to solving them? It’s easy to say important, tractable, and neglected, but hard to determine whether any of those is true of a particular field or idea. We will explore evolutionary game theory, cognitive heuristics and biases, the history of technology, and various ethical frameworks to provide a toolkit for answering this critical question in time for you to do something about it. Finally, we’ll choose and conduct in-depth analyses of topics relevant to the future of technology and civilization.

Kevin Esvelt leads the Sculpting Evolution Group at the MIT Media Lab. Recognizing that gene drive systems based on CRISPR could alter wild populations of organisms, he and his colleagues chose to break with scientific tradition by revealing their findings and calling for open discussion and safeguards before demonstrating the technology in the lab. An outspoken advocate of open science as a way to accelerate discovery, improve safety, and build public trust, he hopes to use gene drive as a catalyst to reform the scientific enterprise. Apart from ecological engineering, research interests include molecular evolution, biological information transfer, and the neurogenetic bases of suffering and euphoria.