Discover Terrascope

Terrascope: a learning community that begins in your freshman year but lasts a lifetime! If you are interested in understanding the ultimate complex dynamical system - the Earth - Terrascope is for you!

Terrascope, one of MIT's learning communities for first-year students, is a unique opportunity for freshmen to expand their academic experience. Terrascope offers the advantages of a small, vibrant community of students and faculty and alumni committed to learning together. The friendships and bonds formed in your first semester often last throughout your MIT experience and beyond. Your academic advising will be through the Terrascope program where in addition to your assigned advisor you will be able to seek advice from the diverse community of faculty, staff, and students. Although the program is for first year students, many Terrascope veterans remain involved as Undergraduate Teaching Fellows or interested alumni and are an important part of the community and a rich source of reliable advice.

What will I do in Terrascope?
You will enroll in the same core subjects as other MIT freshmen, but also participate in two special subjects. During the fall term, Mission 2019: Solving Complex Problems (class 12.000) explores how teams of scientists and engineers approach difficult problems that require multidisciplinary approaches. All students who enroll in Mission in the fall automatically become a part of Terrascope and can enjoy the full benefits of belonging to the community. While we hope that you will take advantage of Terrascope membership, there are no requirements beyond participating in Mission 2019. We hope that you will stay with us in the spring, but enrolling in Mission does not commit you to continuing in Terrascope spring subjects.

There is no other class like 12.000 at MIT and the organizational and leadership skills that you develop in the class will serve you throughout your MIT career. This is one of the only classes you will take where the students are in control of the class from organization to specific topics to the final product.

Communicating Complex Environmental Issues: Building Solutions and Communicating Ideas , offered in the spring semester, is also unique at MIT. It gives you the chance to test or implement the ideas you came up with in Mission, and to build on the organizational and leadership skills you developed in that class. It also helps you develop new kinds of communication skills, and to take part in a hands-on research/design/engineering/fabrication experience. As in Mission, students take charge of their own process and final product. Small teams work directly with faculty members across campus on research and/or design projects that address or illuminate the issues they have been exploring throughout their Terrascope experience, and then present their work in a unique, end-of-semester Bazaar of Ideas.

The Topic of Study
These two classes develop around an annual theme, the focus of the yearlong effort. Past topics have included: develop a plan to reconstruct New Orleans and the Gulf Coast; address global climate change and acidification of the oceans by developing strategies for removing carbon from the atmosphere and finding ways to sequester it; develop a response to disappearing global biodiversity; devise a plan to ensure equitable global access to decreasing strategic natural resources; create strategies to ensure a global supply of clean water; and most recently, devise a global energy production portfolio that reduces human-produced greenhouse gas emissions . For information on the topic for 2015-16, visit the Mission 2019 website.

Terrascope Radio satisfies the required freshman communications requirement by granting CI-H credit. In this subject, you will produce a professional quality radio program based on your year's study. This class is optional but perfectly integrates the Terrascope theme into the Institute's communication requirement. Click here to hear samples of student work from past years.

Each spring, Terrascope students can opt to participate in a week-long field trip to a site relevant to the year’s subject. Most recently, Terrascope visited power generation sites in Northern California You can see descriptions and blogs or photos from past field trips here.

Terrascope sponsors weekly luncheons where faculty and others speak about their work--a great way to learn about current developments in scientific research. These lectures take place in the Terrascope facility, which includes a large meeting room, lounge, and adjacent kitchen. As Napoleon is reported to have said: "An army marches on its stomach." Terrascope endorses this view and between weekly lunches and a well-stocked kitchen you can always depend on finding something to eat at any time of day or night. The Terrascope room is a great place to work on class projects or to just hang out with your fellow students.

Why focus on Earth?
Many students who participate in Terrascope do so because they are curious about the Earth system--how it works, how it has changed over the 4.567 billion years of earth history, and how it will change in the future. Some will want to learn what they can do to promote responsible stewardship of our planet. But Terrascope isn't just for students with an interest in the Earth sciences or the environment. Terrascope students come from across MIT and are majoring in virtually all areas offered at MIT.

Terrascope is a great way for anyone to explore the remarkable feedback relationships that characterize the behavior of complex dynamical systems, using Earth as a giant laboratory.

Most first-year subjects at MIT focus only on the basics. Terrascope gives you more - a head start on learning how to deal with urgent real-world problems that have no simple solutions. Large-scale problems are usually solved by teams of researchers working across the boundaries that separate traditional disciplines. In Terrascope, you get to work as part of a cross-disciplinary team at the very beginning of your undergraduate career.