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Learning/Innovation  

Undergraduate Seminars

ESG seminars are open to all MIT students and are intended to be hands-on and experiential in nature.


ESG sponsors a number of three or six unit pass/fail seminars each year on a variety of innovative subjects not covered in the regular curriculum, including topics such as psychology, cooking, social networking, ethics, and language. These seminars are open to all MIT students and are intended to be hands-on and experiential in nature.

Spring 2023 Seminars at ESG

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

ES.010 Chemistry of Sports: Understanding How Exercise Affects Your Body [6 units]

Instructor:  Patti ChristieSteve Lyons
Time and location: Tuesdays, 3-5pm, 24-619

The purpose of this seminar is to study the chemistry and biology of sport and the effect of exercise and nutrition on athletic performance and physical fitness. We will be able to use our own bodies to measure how exercise affects the body, through observations recorded in a training journal. We will look at nutrition and supplements (both legal and prohibited) to understand their impact on athletic performance; the effect of diet and exercise on anatomic and metabolic systems; the various biochemical reactions triggered by exercise; the role of endorphins, changes in blood chemistry and ways of stimulating long-term changes in your metabolism and even changes to our genetic programming. We will examine our own unique body chemistry and study how genetics, age and body type play a role in these physical and molecular changes that science is only beginning to understand. Finally, we will also examine the chemistry of sports equipment including swimming, cycling, and running equipment and its effect on athletic performance.

Patti Christie is Department Head of Chemistry and Biology at ESG. She has been teaching at ESG since 1995 (full-time since 1999) and is the designer of the Kitchen Chemistry seminar. Patti is the course coordinator for both 5.111 and 5.112 and is very familiar with the Chemistry GIRs. She also helps run the MIT Masters swimming program at the Z center pool. Patti graduated from the MIT chemistry department with a Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry in 1996. She worked in a cardiovascular laboratory in the Biology Department from 1996 to 2005, where she helped develop and study a mouse with a predisposition for heart attacks.

Steve Lyons has been involved in the sport of triathlon for 18 years. He is a former member of the US National Team and a veteran of 13Ironman races including the world championships in Kona, Hawaii. After helping out with the seminar last spring, he placed second in his age division in the Olympic Distance Los Angles triathlon, September, 2007. He is a successful lawyer in civil and criminal litigation and a partner in the Boston firm of KSL & G Assigned Readings.

ES.100 Maker Seminar [3 units]

Instructor:  Dave Custer
Time and location: Fridays, 4:00-5:00pm, 24-611A

ES.100 is an introduction to making, critical making, and use of MIT’s maker spaces. It builds skills needed for designing, conducting, and completing hands-on projects, such as may be encountered in undergraduate classwork and research activities. The course includes maker-space training (e.g. wood shop, laser cutter, 3D printing, and electronics fabrication) and open-ended maker projects, with work evenly divided between class, homework, and maker space activities.

Dave Custer has been teaching hands-on, interdisciplinary subjects at ESG 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 2002 he was a recipient of an MIT Excellence award. In 2013 he received 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.S30 From Transistors to TikTok [3 units]

Instructor:  Christian Cardozo
Time and location: Mondays, 7:00-9:00pm, 24-621

Computation and communication: they shape our world as we know it today. But these technologies didn’t emerge from thin air—they were born from common human experience, logic, and physics. From basic Python to artificial intelligence, from building a computer to connecting millions of them across the globe: we’ll introduce these topics in an accessible way for everyone, regardless of background. By term’s end, we’ll have explored many of the interesting classes of MIT, but without the pressure of actually being in them—learning for learning’s sake. No prereqs, no psets, no pressure!

Christian Cardozo has been with ESG and MIT, in some capacity or another, since 2013: as an undergrad, then graduate student, then as a lecturer. He taught 18.02 for a couple of years, produced interactive demos for 8.01 and 8.02, and—it’s probably safe to say— generally lived at ESG while there. Christian’s main passion is making things make sense. During his time as a lecturer in 2018 and 2019, he started a number of first-year seminars to introduce the material from advanced MIT courses early and without the pressure of being in them. He also served as a first-year advisor to help students make sense of the MIT firehose. After a year on staff, Christian moved to try a software job at a startup. The result, it turns out, is that every time he learns something interesting, he still just wishes he could teach it! With the pandemic, Christian has been able to teach around the world using a weatherman greenscreen setup. Now, returning to in-person teaching, Christian hopes to share foundational topics, conversations, and demos with students in a free-flowing, easy-going weekly seminar. Christian collects some of his insanity on his website, christiancardozo.com—as with this course, you are always welcome to visit.

ES.S602 Introduction to Computational Science and Engineering with 8.02/2 applications [6 units]  CANCELLED

Instructor:  Paola Rebusco
Time and location: Wednesdays, 7-9pm and Fridays, 12-1pm

The purposes of this course are : (1) to help you continue to learn how to solve problems using your computer, (2) to introduce you specifically to algorithms used in Computational Science and Engineering (CSE), with applications to E&M (8.02/8.022/ES.802), and (3) to help you understanding and visualizing E&M concepts and procedures.

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. In addition to being the European Southern Observatory Network representative in the United States, she comments on scientific news for the Italian radio. Paola loves traveling (especially to warm places), sailing, martial arts, writing, reading, cooking and eating. To learn more about Paola, see her webpage http://www.mit.edu/~pao and her blog for the ESG seminar Speak Italian with Your Mouth Full at http://speakcookitalian.blogspot.com.

ES.S70 WHERE IS EVERYBODY? Arguments For and Against the Existence of Extraterrestrial Civilization [6 units]

Instructor:  Wade Roush
Time and location: Fridays, 3-5pm, 24-619

Exoplanets are common. Life is hardy. The galaxy is vast. So why haven’t we detected intelligent civilizations elsewhere? That’s the question known as the “Fermi Paradox,” and in this 12-week
ESG seminar, we’ll come to grips with it, drawing on arguments from astrophysics, planetary science, biology, anthropology, history, science fiction, and many other fields. Join us, earthlings!

Wade Roush is a 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 co-editor of “Tasting Light”, a young-adult science fiction anthology published the the MITeen Press (2022). He has been a staff writer, editor, and/or columnist for Science, MIT Technology Review, Xconomy, and Scientific American. In 2014-15 he was acting director of MIT’s Knight Science Journalism program, the world’s premier mid-career fellowship program for science writers. In addition to his journalistic work, he consults with technology startups and venture capital firms on communications and storytelling projects. 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.

ES.S71 The Varieties of Human Experience (with apologies to William James) [6 units]

Instructor:  Charles Kaufmann
Time and location: Mondays, 3-5pm, 24-618

An introduction to the study of life, as lived, focusing on those experiences that make us truly human: creativity and dreaming, altruism and conscience, beauty and love, consciousness and spirituality. We will address these questions in an interdisciplinary way, embracing the fields of genetics, evolution, molecular biology, ethology, paleoanthropology, neurobiology, neurodevelopment, network theory, complexity and systems theory, integrated information theory, and computational neuroscience. In the process, we will become acquainted with the tools of modern neuroscience, as well as the importance of experiments of Nature, and the role of clinical neuroscience and psychiatry. Finally, we will explore how such neurobiological phenomena might be instantiated in computer architectures.

Charles A. (Chuck) Kaufmann, a 1971 graduate of MIT (S.B., Physics), is a psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and molecular geneticist who has spent the past 40 years searching for genes conferring susceptibility to major mental illnesses including schizophrenia and bipolar illness. Trained at the Payne Whitney Clinic, the Rockefeller University, and the National Institute of Mental Health, he had been a long time member of the faculty of Columbia University. He also has been a Junior High School teacher in New York City and has always valued his role as a mentor.

ES.90 Community, Ethics, and Leadership [6 units]

Instructor:  Thea Keith-Lucas
Time and location: Thursdays, 2:30-4:30pm, South Bay House of Corrections

How do communities work together to create change? In this course, we will draw on philosophy, economics, psychology and other social sciences to understand the written and unwritten rules that shape our communities. Topics include shared resources, community organizing, charity, reform, and mutual aid. We will also explore the skills that leaders need to find creative, collective solutions. MIT students will learn alongside incarcerated students at the South Bay House of Corrections. Allow 1:30pm-5:30pm for travel to and from the facility.

Thea Keith-Lucas is the Chaplain to the Institute at MIT, which makes her the university’s primary interfaith chaplain and leader of its Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life. She took on this role in January 2022 after serving in an interim capacity for a year and a half. From 2013 to 2020, Thea served a small community of progressive Christians as the Episcopal Chaplain at MIT. She was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 2006 and previously served parishes in Randolph, Mass. and Danvers, Mass.

ES.S91 Emotional Intelligence for Teams [6 units]

Instructor:  Jane Abbott
Time and location: Thursdays, 2:30-4:30pm, virtual

What if you felt more at ease around other people?  More confidence when you work with a team, or less anxiety?  How would life be different if you had more skills and strategies to be effective when you collaborate?  Would it help you to be able to speak up more boldly, or to listen more fully to others?  To better understand what motivates people, or to be more persuasive?  This course offers insight, knowledge, and practice with the tools that underlie interpersonal success. MIT students will learn alongside incarcerated students at the Maine Correctional Center, Women’s Center (class will be taught virtually).

Jane Abbott has taught communication and collaboration at MIT and in industry. Her focus is on how to be both effective and authentic, and thereby increase trust, respect, and satisfaction. 

ES.92 Authenticity [6 units]

Instructor:  Lee Perlman
Time and location: Tuesdays, 7:00-9:15pm, taught at South Bay House of Corrections

Explores the question of how to live an authentic life, through works of western and eastern philosophy and contemporary psychology. Topics include emotions, anger, honesty, forgiveness, non-violent communication, conflict resolution, kindness and cruelty and compassion.

Lee Perlman is the Director of The Educational Justice Institute at MIT and a long time instructor of humanities subjects at ESG. Before earning his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Perlman spent eight years working in the political arena as a public interest lobbyist and political organizer. In 1978 Baltimore Magazine named him ‘the most feared lobbyist in Maryland’. He has taught at Harvard University, Brown University, Swarthmore College, Phillips Academy (Andover), and for more than 20 years has designed and taught a number of courses at MIT which offer students an integrated view of the humanities and sciences in the western tradition. In recent years he has taught these subjects in the Massachusetts jail and prison systems to a mixed cohort of MIT and incarcerated students. He has twice been awarded the Irwin Sizer Award for Most Significant Improvement to MIT Education (1997, 2015), and was the recipient of MIT’s MLK Leadership Award 2018. Lee is also a composer and musician, and the Music Director of the Deborah Abel Dance Company, which has toured in the US and India.