EECS considers 6-M major

Course 6 variant would focus on medical devices

This year’s new 6.S02 survey course is a first foray into what is proposed to be the new 6-M (“6-Medical”) major within Course 6 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science). 6.02 (Intro to EECS II) is a required lab class for Course 6 majors, but was not taught this spring. In its place appeared 6.S02, Intro to EECS II from a Medical Technology Perspective, which will also be the only 6.02 option next Spring. The new 6-M major has gained popularity as a concept among students currently enrolled in 6.S02, though the class has also garnered criticism from enrolled students about how the class is taught — because the class is in its first iteration, there are still many kinks to iron out.

According to Course 6 Department Head Anantha P. Chandrakasan, the idea of a 6-M major came about as a way to make coursework reflect current research. Chandrakasan says that much of the research in Course 6 deals with medical applications of some sort. Professor Jacob K. White added that approximately 35 percent of the EECS faculty researches medical devices and its applications, and that there are “a lot of people from hospitals who are excited about collaborating with us.” He stated that the intent of 6.S02 is to introduce undergraduates to a field of research and better connect students to current faculty research.

Curriculum description

The potential new 6-M major may also add newer courses, while still maintaining most of the standard Course 6 headers. Chandrakasan said, “The core courses of EECS will more or less stay the same, with some permeation of medical applications,” the example being 6.S02. Professor Dennis M. Freeman added that there is already some current permeation from biological applications into the EECS core. “There is currently a module in 6.006 which uses genes to examine algorithms,” he said. The course additions would come in the form of higher-level courses, according to Chandrakasan, “that are in collaboration with other departments such as BCS (Brain and Cognitive Science) and MechE (Mechanical Engineering).” As for how 6-M may differ from 6-7 (Computer Science and Molecular Biology) and Course 20 (Biological Engineering), Freeman said, “The possible major will use a different toolkit to a different set of problems. The 6-7 major really looks at molecular biology while our new major will be looking at medical applications of the core EECS toolkit.” Chandrakasan added that while Course 20 majors use thermodynamics and cell mechanics to solve problems, 6-M majors will address medical problems through machine learning and algorithms. In general, the department hopes that more introductory courses like 6.02 will have alternatives such as 6.S02 to get freshman and sophomores interested in medical applications at an earlier stage. The middle of a 6-M’s journey would be filled with more standard Course 6 introductory courses, while at the senior level the 6-M curriculum would expand to more advanced classes that are more focused on applications of EECS knowledge to medical problems and devices.

Freeman, who is this semester’s 6.01 lecturer, said that basic principles of computer science and electrical engineering can be taught through any number of projects. This year’s 6.S02 students will primarily be working with a tabletop MRI in pairs, investigating signals and systems, just as 6.01 students use a robot to identify basic principles of coding and electrical engineering. The MRI, according to White, is probably the foremost example of how EECS has changed the medical world. Understanding such an imaging device requires a deep understanding of algorithms and signals, among other EECS fundamentals. White hopes that 6.S02 will help change the landscape of medicine. “Why does the MRI cost so much more than an iPhone?” said White. “It’s not because the MRI is much more technically complicated, but rather because we just don’t train students to work with an MRI.”

6.S02 student response

While a number of students find 6.S02 to be a unique and interesting approach, some have taken issue with the bugs in the class. Vineel A. Chakradhar ’16 believes heavily in the concept of 6.S02, but less so in how the class is structured. “Many of the modules and labs we do in class have bugs in them. But it makes sense because this class is so new. All of our lecturers in class are extremely qualified and I’m pretty happy with what I’m learning so far,” he said. Another freshman in 6.S02, Kaustav A. Gopinathan also sees the potential of Course 6-M. “I think that medicine is going to change rapidly in the next 10 or 20 years. If you’re going to be a doctor, having this kind of knowledge would be really important, based off of today’s direction of medicine.”

6-M timeline

The actual 6-M major may still be a few years away from being an official major. Chandrakasan says there are still a number of obstacles to jump through in order to get approval from the department, including getting approval from the Course 6 education committee. “Realistically, it looks like the major may not be out for another couple of years,” Chandrakasan said. Despite this, White is convinced that the curriculum will have a great impact on MIT students. “Write code, save a life; design a circuit, save a life. That’s what 6-M is really all about.”