12.000 | Fall 2009 | Undergraduate
Solving Complex Problems


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 3 sessions / week, 1 hour / session

Course Description

12.000 Solving Complex Problems is designed to provide students the opportunity to work as part of a team to propose solutions to a complex problem that requires an interdisciplinary approach. For the students of the class of 2013, 12.000 will revolve around the issues associated with what we can and must do about the steadily increasing amounts CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere.

In this class, students will be tasked with solving the large and complex problems necessary to sequester enough carbon to stop the steady increase of atmospheric CO2 and to stabilize it. While reducing or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions is a good strategy that must be pursued, it will not be enough and we must also find ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it in geologically stable reservoirs. There are many possible ways to sequester CO2, including storing in porous rock formations, the deep ocean, forests and soils, and precipitating carbonate minerals to name a few. However, the capture, transport, and sequestration of CO2 will be logistically complex, incredibly expensive, and require unprecedented international cooperation.

Your Mission is to propose an integrated global solution to the rapid rise in atmospheric CO2 that will stabilize concentrations at an economically viable and internationally acceptable level. Mission 2013 will focus on the issues associated managing our planet’s atmosphere. Attempting to control the concentrations of greenhouse gases is an enormous, complex problem that will require a major interdisciplinary, international, innovative effort unlike anything ever attempted in human history.

More background can be found in the introductory lecture: (PDF)

Course Structure

Other than the initial introductory meeting, there are five different meeting types:

  1. Information Sessions are special meetings of the entire class to learn about research techniques, teamwork strategies, and presentation skills.
  2. Case Study Sessions provide an opportunity for the class to discuss various aspects of carbon sequestration.
  3. Team Meetings are weekly opportunities for teams to brainstorm in independent work sessions.
  4. Coordination Meetings are whole-section meetings designed to enable the coordination of team design strategies in advance of the final section solutions.
  5. Freeform Sessions are formal meetings of special interest groups that develop as the semester progresses.

About 12.000

12.000 Solving Complex Problems is a nine-unit, Fall-semester subject designed to provide freshmen with the opportunity to work as part of an “imagineering” team to design a viable solution to a complex problem that requires an interdisciplinary approach.

Each year’s class explores a different problem in detail through the study of complementary case histories and the development of creative solution strategies. The course includes training in Web site development, effective written and oral communication, and team building. Initially developed with major financial support from the d’Arbeloff Fund for Excellence in Education, 12.000 is designed to enhance the freshman experience by helping students develop contexts for other subjects in the sciences and humanities, and by helping them to establish learning communities that include upperclassmen, faculty, MIT alumni, and professionals in science and engineering fields.

Why Mission?

The Mission class offers freshmen a completely different way to learn. In contrast to the core classes that rely on lectures and problem sets, Mission attempts to teach students how to think about solving complex problems. Students in Mission are independent, largely self-directed, and interactive. They learn how to build teams and develop solutions that require teamwork between scientists and engineers. Mission students will learn that many problems are just too big and complex to be solved by any one person or discipline and must involve integration. At the end of the class, the students of Mission will have developed new and innovative solutions to an “unsolvable” problem and been exposed to a variety of different disciplines.

Course Info
As Taught In
Fall 2009