ESG Seminars Descriptions

ESG sponsors a number of six-unit pass/fail seminars each spring on a variety of innovative subjects not covered in the regular curriculum, including psychology, cooking, social networking, ethics, and language.  These seminars are open to all MIT students as well as ESG students and are intended to be hands-on and experiential in nature.  Seminars listed below will be offered in spring 2014.  For more information about our series, see the article by Dr. Holly Sweet.

Spring 2014 Seminars at ESG

All seminars are six units P/F credit unless noted otherwise.


    ES.010 Chemistry of Sports

    Instructors: Patti Christie, Steve Lyons

    Time and location:  Wednesdays 3-5 p.m. in 24-619 (with workout sessions Thursdays 4-5 p.m.)

    The seminar is designed to look at the science of a triathlon/sports from a
    molecular/chemical/biological point of view. We will be able to use our own bodies to see how exercise affects the system, through observations written in a training journal. We will also improve the overall fitness of the class through maintaining a physical fitness program over the course of the term. The end of the term will have us all participate in a mini-triathlon in the Z center pool/Mac court/Charles River Esplanade on Wednesday May 9th. This 6-unit seminar has the potential to add two extra PE points.

    Dr. Patti Christie is a lecturer in Biology and Chemistry for the Experimental Study Group (ESG). Patti has been teaching the chemistry and biology GIRs at ESG since 1999 and helps manage the chemistry department GIRs. She has also taught several seminars including two Kitchen Chemistry seminars and a new seminar on From Farm to Table (to be taught this spring). Patti is a triathlete in training and spends her summers in Singapore teaching general chemistry at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

    Steve Lyons has been involved in the sport of triathlon for 20 years. He is a former member of the US National Team and a veteran of 13 Ironman races, including the world championships in Kona, Hawaii. He is a successful lawyer in civil and criminal litigation and a partner in the Boston firm of KSL & G Assigned Readings.


    ES.S10 Drugs and the Brain

    Instructor: Zak Fallows (staff supervisor: Patti Christie)

    Time and location:  Tuesdays 7-9 p.m. in 24-619

    From Abilify to Zyrtec, the world is full of fascinating drugs. If you are poisoned by sarin nerve gas, you may be able to save your life by huffing some BZ nerve gas. This class will explain that chemical curiosity, along with a host of other interesting tidbits of pharmacology. The structure of the class interleaves basic concepts with specific examples and entertaining tangents, so it is not loaded with boring abstract theory. In the first class you will learn what a neurotransmitter is, and you will immediately apply that knowledge when we discuss the mechanism of caffeine. The class is highly multidisciplinary, including topics such as patent law and medical ethics.

    Zak Fallows is an ESG alumnus and first taught pharmacology with ESG in 2009. This coming spring will be his fourth time teaching this class, although the subject number and name have changed. Zak graduated from Course 9 in 2011. Zak received pharmacology training and mentorship in the lab of Prof. Richard J. Wurtman, MD, who patented the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and the commercially successful diet drug dexfenfluramine. Zak currently works as a software engineer.

    ES.S11 From Farm to Table: How MIT and You Deal with Food

    Instructors: Patti Christie, Naomi Carton

    Time and location:  Tuesdays 3-5 p.m. in 24-619

    Ever wonder where the food on your plate comes from? What the difference between an organic farm and a conventional farm? What sustainable food really means? What about your dining hall? Do you know that MIT composts? This seminar is going to explore food from the farm, through grocery stores and produce suppliers, to your plate, at both home and dorm. We will examine what MIT is doing to support local farms and deal with food preparation, serving and waste disposal. We will be taking field trips to a farm, grocery stores, and campus dining facilities. We will be inviting speakers from around campus and outside to come and speak to us about sustainable food. We will also be participating in the MIT Dining's iron chef competition to learn more about how food gets to your plate and attending the Earth Day festivities on campus.

    Naomi Carton is the Associate Dean of Residential Life and Dining. Naomi has been at MIT for three years. Before coming to MIT, she led a course on sustainability at Worchester Polytechnic Institute. She is the house director at Westgate and is helping create programs and activities around campus for graduate students and their families.

    ES.S20 The Mathematics of Toys and Games

    Instructor: Robert Sloan (faculty supervisor: Professor Erik Demain)

    Time and location:  Thursdays 7-9 p.m. in 24-619

    This course will examine the mathematical structure and strategy for many common games and puzzles, culminating in a project exploring an existing game, an open problem, or a new game design. Using games as a model, we will explore the fundamental ideas behind AI, groups, game theory, computational complexity, probability, and cellular automata. Each class session will involve a discussion of a new kind of game or design and game play.

    Robert Sloan is a junior in Physics and Computer Science and is one of ESG's teaching assistants.  He spends most of his time working with digital logic. He prides himself on being entirely unable to make a decent list of interests, but at least enjoys making music which is usually electronic and finding excuses to tell stories.

    ES.S40 Getting Beyond Us and Them: Living Ethically in a Complex World

    Instructor: Patricia Weinmann and Thea Keith-Lucas (faculty advisor: Professor Samuel Allen)

    Time and location:  Mondays 3-5 p.m. in 24-619

    Why is it so hard for human beings to live in peace? Why is our culture increasingly polarized between opposite views on important moral questions? How can you develop your own ethical stance and also respect people who think differently from you?   In this course, we will read together Joshua Greene’s book Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason and the Gap Between Us and Them (the book will be provided).  The seminar will kick off with a public forum with Dr. Greene and Dr. Emile Bruneau (MIT SaxeLab) on Tuesday, February 4 at 7:00 pm. We will also draw on conversations with invited guests, video resources, and short articles from history, cognitive science and philosophy.

    Thea Keith-Lucas in an Episcopal priest with an MTS from the Harvard Divinity School and an M.Div. from the Episcopal Divinity School. She is an experienced leader of museum education programs, retreats, adult formation classes and professional development seminars. Thea Keith-Lucas and Patricia-Maria Weinmann coordinate the Technology and Culture Forum at MIT, which explores the role of science and technology in promoting positive social, ecological, and economic change.

    Patricia-Maria Weinmann has co-taught ethics seminars through the MIT Philosophy department for the past five years. She has worked at the Technology and Culture Forum for over 25 years developing educational programs on ethics, international development, nuclear non-proliferation, and environmental and economic sustainability. In addition to her work at MIT, Patricia is an active freelance opera director.


    ES.S41 Speak Italian...With Your Mouth Full!

    Instructor: Paola Rebusco

    Time and location:  Tuesdays 7-9 p.m. in 24-615

    The participants to this seminar will dive in the Mediterranean diet while learning basic conversational Italian. For the past 50 years scientists have studied the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, but a good diet is not based on recipes only, it is also rooted in healthy habits and in culture. On the other hand it is well known that language immersion courses are more effective and lasting than traditional language courses. Each class is based on the preparation of a delicious dish and on the bite-sized acquisition of parts of the Italian language and culture. At the end of the seminar the participants will be able to cook some healthy and tasty recipes in their dorm and to understand and speak basic Italian.

    Dr. Paola Rebusco is a native Italian, who among other things worked as a cook on a sailing boat. She earned her master in theoretical physics at the University of Trieste (Italy) and received her Ph.D. in Astronomy from the Ludwig Maximillian University (Munich, Germany). She came to MIT as a Pappalardo Postdoctoral Fellow and is now teaching Physics at ESG. Paola is also interested in how specialized knowledge is made publicly accessible. She is member of the European Southern Observatory Outreach Network and is a commentator upon scientific news for the Italian radio program Moebius.

    ES.S71 Increasing Your Physical Intelligence, Enhancing Your Social Smarts

    Instructor:  Noah Riskin

    Time and location: Mondays and Wednesdays 2-3 p.m. in W32-109 (MIT gymnastics facility); optional gym session on Thursdays 2-3 p.m.

    Mind overworked and body underused? Want to feel more capable and confident in your body to carry and present yourself better? You may not realize how your body affects your friendships, grades or, indeed, your entire MIT experience. But, how you feel and function in your body means so much; it's still the most important way we meet and interact with the world and other people.
    Using the MIT gymnastics facility, this class takes a cognitive approach to physical activity and uses a wide range of innovative exercises (e.g., blindfolded movement, trampoline, high-speed video, experiments with gravity, etc.) to coax the powers of concentration and problem solving you possess down into the body. Along the way, you'll not only develop better balance, strength, flexibility and coordination, but a more robust and better balanced YOU. If you're interested in improving how you feel and function in your body, this class is for you––even if­ (especially if) you've never been inside a gym.
    This class is being offered in conjunction with an MIT research study: The Impact of Physical Intelligence on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is designed to investigate whether a range of simple, physical exercises can help people with some of the challenges associated with ASD. Students are not required to participate in the study associated with this class, but may do so if they wish. Please contact the instructor for more information.
    Noah Riskin is former champion gymnast, an artist and writer. He was the Head Men's Gymnastics Coach, a Physical Education Instructor and Director of the Physical Intelligence Initiative at MIT for ten years. Currently, Noah writes and lectures on the meaning of the body to the human experience. He is preparing a forthcoming book, Body of Knowledge, with coauthor Mia Keinänen.