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First Year Advising Seminars: Titles K-Z

Below are the seminars with Titles K-Z that are being offered in AY2021-22. You will apply for the seminars of interest to you between June 1 and June 15.


18.A03 Knot Theory

  • Tomasz Mrowka
  • Mathematics
  • Meets: Arranged Hrs

The mathematics of knots turns out to be a rich and fascinating subject touching many parts of mathematics (and even high energy physics). This seminar will expose students to various topics in knot theory and related parts of mathematics, including geometry and algebra.

Tom Mrowka was an undergraduate here at MIT from 1979 to 1983. He received his PhD in mathematics in 1988 from UC Berkeley. After positions at the Mathematical Science Research Institute, Stanford, and Caltech, he returned to MIT in 1994 as a professor of mathematics. His mathematical interests are in the partial differential equations of mathematical physics like the Yang-Mills equations and, in particular, applying these equations to the study of low dimensional topology. He like swimming, running, and climbing when he has time.


18.A34 Mathematical Problem Solving (Putnam Seminar)

  • Prof. Yufei Zhao
  • Mathematics
  • Meets: MW1 (2-151)

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.


CMS.A02 Media & Popular Culture

  • Edward Schiappa Comparative Media Studies
  • Chris Peterson, Admissions
  • Meets: W7-9

This seminar is for students who would like to reflect about the role of mass-mediated popular culture in their lives.  Artifacts and practices open to our study include music, film, TV, videogames, social media, and more.  It may also serve as a useful introduction to the comparative study of media for those interested in exploring CMS as a field of interest. Students will learn about different methods of research, including how to conduct oral history interviews and produce their own reflexive autoethnographies. Ultimately the questions we will be exploring are Why do we consume popular culture? What needs does it fulfill? And how might it be changing us?

Edward Schiappa is the John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Schiappa earned his PhD from Northwestern University in Communication Studies. During his career he has taught at the University of Minnesota, Purdue University, and MIT. He spent 6 years as Head of the Comparative Media Studies section here at MIT. He is the author of many scholarly books and articles on media and persuasion. He has won many awards for his research, including prestigious ?Distinguished Scholar? awards from three institutions. Most recently he won the National Communication Association?s Woolbert Award for his theory known as the ?Parasocial Contact Hypothesis,” given for research that “has stood the test of time and has become a stimulus for new conceptualizations of communication.”

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. He is co-lead of the Mapping Information Access research project, which tracks internet filtering in public institutions across the United States, and was part of the group of students and staff who established the MIT-TurboVote voter registration partnership before the 2016 elections.


6.A01 Mens et Manus: Making with Technology

  • Prof. Dennis Freeman
  • Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Dawn Wendell
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Meets: Arranged Hrs (34-501)

This seminar provides opportunities to learn to use modern fabrication techniques such as laser cutting and 3D printing as well as state-of-the-art microcontrollers to design and build your own novel brushless motor. 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.


12.A03 Meteorite from Mars Kills Dog: The Inside Story on Planets

  • Prof. Timothy Grove
  • Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
  • Meets: W3-5 (54-824)

In this seminar, we will look at the way in which planets formed and evolved by exploring the clues found in meteorites. We will survey the variety of magmas present throughout the solar system, including melts that condensed from gas during the formation of the solar system and magmas formed on asteroids. We will also discuss theories about the events that led to the formation of Mercury, Venus, Earth, the Moon, and Mars. In addition to weekly readings, there will be hands-on experience with meteorites from the asteroid belt, meteorites that may be samples of Mars (one of them killed a dog when it landed), and rocks from the Moon. In the lab, we will recreate the intensely elevated pressure and temperature conditions achieved in a planet’s interior and create our own magma. View the URL for brand new information about Prof. Grove’s research!

For more information: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2009/volcanoes-0605.html

Tim Grove is a geologist whose interests are not limited to the rocks from the Earth. He studies meteorites and has also worked on the lunar rock samples returned by the Apollo and Soviet spacecraft. Most of the time he studies planetary formation processes by recreating conditions of high pressure and temperature in his laboratory at MIT.


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

  • Dr. Shuguang Zhang
  • Biology
  • Meets: Arranged Hrs

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: T4-5.30 (E51-393)

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: Arranged Hrs

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.


4.A22 The Physics of Energy

  • Prof. Leslie Norford
  • Architecture
  • Meets: Arranged Hrs

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 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.


6.A48 The Physics of Energy

  • Prof. Steven Leeb
  • Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Meets: T3-5 (38-501)

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.


8.A01 Professional Preparation

  • Richard Price
  • Physics
  • Meets: T2:30-4

Academic work is, and must be, very different from what is encountered in the technical workplace. This seminar gives participants an introduction to and practice in some of the skills that are typically (and painfully) learned “on the job” whether that job is in a large tech company, an entrepreneurial endeavor, or – yes – an academic position. These skills include efficient technical writing, oral presentations, ethics beyond the obvious, some legal issues and some management issues. Which topics will be covered will depend on student interests.

Richard Price, a Senior Lecturer in Physics, is a theoretical physicist whose research contributions were mainly in black hole and gravitational physics, but who also has a master’s equivalent degree in engineering, and who has worked and published in a broad range of very different areas: MEMS devices, neurological imaging, sports physics, pulsar timing, applied mathematics, scientific pedagogy, and more. He has been the Editor in Chief of the American Journal of Physics. He first developed a course in professional preparation at the University of Utah, has presented versions of it at several other institutions, and has given talks widely on the need for such courses. 


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

  • Dr. Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel
  • Research Laboratory of Electronics
  • Lab: TH4 (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.


18.A09 Symmetry

  • Prof. Haynes Miller
  • Mathematics
  • Meets: Arranged Hrs

The human perceptual apparatus seems to make repeated use of a few general principles to make sense of the world. A big one is symmetry. Animal bodies generally exhibit bilateral symmetry, for example; when they don’t (as with a flounder, for example, or owls’ ears), we notice. Everyone separates a perfect circle from any less symmetric doodle, and a sphere from any less symmetric blob.<br />The concept of symmetry has been clarified and generalized by mathematicians, perhaps beginning with Plato and his solids. Different types of symmetry are distinguished from each other and studied using the abstraction captured in the concept of a “group.”

This seminar considers the phenomenon of symmetry, and how it enters into art and music as well as mathematics and physics. Students take turns discussing a range of topics over the term, using resources mainly available on the web, and contribute to a document recording these discussions.

Haynes Miller has been Professor of Mathematics at MIT since 1986, after stints at Harvard, Northwestern, and the Universities of Washington, Notre Dame, and Paris. He has led 18.03 many times, as well as 18.821 Project Laboratory in Mathematics, and in 2005 was awarded a MacVicar Fellowship in recognition of his teaching efforts. His research interests lie in the interaction of algebra and topology. Mathematics offers lots of opportunity to travel, and on these trips (to Australia, Japan, Vietnam, and Haiti, for example) he usually finds time to get to unpeopled corners and add to his knowledge of the birds of the world. Professor Miller is married to harpist Juli Miller, and has two grown children.


11.A11 Topics in International Development

  • Prof. Wesley Harris
  • Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • Meets: Arranged Hrs

This seminar introduces freshmen 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. Fundamental to this applied problem-solving approach is understanding the pertinent problem and related context as a system with multiple stakeholders. In this seminar, students will learn an effective and impactful method to approach developing communities, understand problems, and structure useful solutions.

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

Wesley Harris will be the advisor to the freshmen 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.


11.A14 Urban Planning in the News

  • Mr. Ezra Haber Glenn
  • Urban Studies and Planning
  • Meets: W3-4:30 (9-217)

Using stories “ripped from the headlines” (both old and new), this course will introduce you to the strange, wonderful, and incredibly relevant world of urban planning. Each week the class will explore a different aspect of city planning and urban life — from corrupt politics and local elections to transportation planning and garbage strikes, from affordable housing development to school quality and desegregation, from crime and community policing to the delivery of clean water (or the the failure to do so) — through the lens of both historical and contemporary news media, including newspapers, radio, newsreels, and television news. Coverage will often focus on news from your new home of Boston, but we’ll also compare news and issues here with those in other places and other times.

Ezra Haber Glenn is a Lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He teaches courses on urban planning, community development, and “the city in film” (11.139). Prior to coming to MIT, Ezra worked for over a decade in local planning offices in the nearby cities of Lawrence and Somerville, MA. In addition to teaching, he is the founder and executive director of Public Planning, Research, and Implementation, Inc., a non-profit planning group established to assist community-based organizations with land use and development planning projects, and he is the Past-President of the Somerville Community Corporation, a non-profit housing developer located in his hometown.


15.A18 The Zen of Probability

  • Prof. James Orlin
  • Sloan School of Management
  • Meets: Arranged Hrs

This seminar addresses subtopics in elementary probability from several perspectives. The topics vary from year to year. Topics for this seminar have included: (1) making sense of probability, (2) strategic (and other) uses of randomness, (3) how Bayes’ rule can reduce uncertainty and improve decision making, (4) paradoxes in probability and the insights they provide, and (5) how probability can lead to a better understanding of coincidences, superstitions, luck, and more. Every week, we will try to solve at least one brain teaser in probability. In addition, each student who takes the seminar will make a presentation on a topic of their own choosing.

Jim Orlin is a professor of Operations Research at the Sloan School of Management. In his research, he develops efficient algorithms for problems in mathematical optimization. He has always been fascinated by probability, especially paradoxes arising in elementary probability.