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, six or nine 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 2021 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 (virtual)

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.

The COVID restrictions have changed the way that we are working and playing. We will approach this seminar as way to educate ourselves in working out in the new normal. We will look at how the sports industry has adapted to COVID and see what lessons we can learn to apply to our own lives.


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.92 Authenticity [6 units]

Instructor:  Lee Perlman
Time and location: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10-11:30am (virtual)

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. Taught inside a secure Massachusetts correctional facility with a mix of MIT students and incarcerated students. Limited to 12.

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.

ES.S30 From Transistors to TikTok [3 units]

Instructor:  Christian Cardozo
Time and location: Fridays, 3-5pm (virtual)

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, in some capacity or another, since 2013: as an undergrad, then graduate student, then staff. 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. In 2018 and 2019, he started a number of first-year seminars, including ES.S10 and ES.S70, 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 just wishes he could teach it! In ES.S30, Christian hopes to share foundational topics, conversations, and demos with students in a free-flowing, easy-going weekly seminar.

ES.S70 The Varieties of Human Experience (with apologies to William James) [6 units]

Instructor:  Charles Kaufmann
Time and location: Fridays, 3-5pm (virtual)

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.