Solving Complex Problems

Photo of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, subject of the "Mission 2007" challenge. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.)


MIT Course Number


As Taught In

Fall 2003



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Course Description

Course Features

Course Description

Solving Complex Problems provides an opportunity for entering freshmen to gain first-hand experience with working as part of a team to develop effective approaches to complex problems in Earth system science and engineering that do not have straightforward solutions. The subject includes training in a variety of skills, ranging from library research to Web Design.

Each year's course explores a different problem in detail through the study of complimentary case histories and the development of creative solution strategies. Beginning in 2000 as an educational experiment sponsored by MIT's Committee on the Undergraduate Program, and receiving major financial support from the Alex and Britt d'Arbeloff Fund for Excellence in MIT Education, the subject is designed to enhance the first-semester 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 from many walks of life.

In Fall 2003, students from the Class of 2007 were challenged with “Mission 2007”:

  • To design the most "environmentally correct" strategy for oil exploration and extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); and
  • To perform a cost-benefit analysis in order to evaluate whether or not the hydrocarbon resources that might be extracted from beneath ANWR are worth the environmental damage that might result from the process.

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Related Content

Kip Hodges, and Rafael Bras. 12.000 Solving Complex Problems. Fall 2003. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

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