Summer Research Opportunities

2019 Summer Research Assistantships:

To apply, contact the faculty member to determine if your background is appropriate for the position. If approved, complete the online Summer Research application form. Directions for submission are at the top of the application page.


Faculty Supervisor: Rohini Pande
School: HKS
Dept./Area: Public Policy
Project Topic: Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) Environment Internship

Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD), a research program at Harvard Kennedy School, has a portfolio of projects in India and Nepal.  EPoD currently seeks an intern to support our program in Nepal that is trying to understand how public policy can be used for climate resilient policies and designing the correct response to the last big earthquake. In May of 2017 Nepal held its first local elections in more than 20 years.  These elections represent the first step in a larger process of decentralization as mandated in the 2015 Constitution, and mark an important opportunity for peace and stability in a country that has been marred with political instability, earthquake destruction, and Maoist violence over the last several decades.  The intern will work with the team on upcoming surveys and analysis to understand the impact of decentralization on policy making, specifically, environmental policy and earthquake reconstruction grants.  Location: Kathmandu, Nepal with travel to field locations.

Contact: Rohini Pande and Eve Margolis

Faculty Supervisor: Joe Aldy
School: HKS
Dept./Area: Public Policy
Project Topic: Climate Trade-offs: The Impacts of Emission Mitigation Policies on Climate Change Adaptation

As increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to warm the planet, the increase in temperatures will pose greater risks to public health. As households and businesses update their expectations about climate change and its impact on the weather, they will make investments and undertake changes in behavior to adapt, at least in part, to the changing climate. For example, the deployment and use of air conditioning is likely to increase in response to climate change.

Contemporaneous to adaptation efforts will likely be a mix of emission mitigation policies by local, state, and national governments. Whether through carbon pricing, technology-specific regulations, or other energy policies, these will likely increase in energy prices. These higher prices will increase the costs of many adaptation activities (i.e., all those that rely on energy) and reduce the extent of climate change adaptation that occurs.

This research project will investigate how climate change mitigation policies influence climate change adaptation. We will develop a health capital model to demonstrate how energy consumption – which is, in part, a function of energy prices and temperatures – can influence human health. We will use this health capital model to motivate empirical models that estimate the causal impact of temperatures and energy prices on mortality. We will then use our estimated models to simulate the impacts of climate change and climate change mitigation policy in various long-term climate scenarios produced by global circulation models.

The research assistant will work with Professor Aldy on a variety of tasks, including the review and synthesis of the economic and epidemiological literatures on temperature, climate change, and premature mortality; the collection, compilation, and analysis of mortality, temperature, energy, economic, and social program data; the collection of forecast temperature and energy price data from global circulation models and from energy-economic models for various climate policy scenarios; and the production of tables and figures for presentations and a working paper.

Contact: Joe Aldy

Faculty Supervisor: Eli Tziperman
School: SEAS, FAS-Earth and Planetary Sciences
Dept./Area: Earth and Planetary Sciences
Project Topic: Climate Dynamics

Undergraduate students with a strong background in physics and math are invited to join us for research projects either during the summer or the academic year. Students will learn about and participate in ocean, atmospheric and climate dynamics research activities, including the study of climate variability and climate change, both natural and human-caused. Possible project topics range from El Nino, the large-scale oceanic circulation, and past warm climates, with implications to future climate change as well. Typical projects involve Matlab programming and the analysis of climate models or observations. More information on our web page:

Contact: Eli Tziperman

Faculty Supervisor: Loretta Mickley
School: SEAS
Dept./Area: Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling
Project Topic: Atmospheric Chemistry: Wildfires and Climate Change

Our research focuses on interactions between surface air pollution and climate change. We seek to understand how gases and particles affect climate and how climate change, in turn, can influence the composition of the atmosphere. Our group analyzes observations from a range of sources (ground-based monitors, aircraft, and satellites) and conducts modeling studies of atmospheric chemistry and climate. A key topic to be investigated in summer 2019 focuses on the effects of changing climate on wildfires in the western US, and the consequences of increasing wildfire smoke on surface air quality. Project will involve data analysis, and applicants should have a strong interest in programming.

Contact: Loretta Mickley

Faculty Supervisor: Joe Allen
School: HSPH
Dept./Area: Environmental Health
Project Title: Healthy Buildings

We spend 90% of our time indoors. It follows that the places where we live, work, learn and play have an outsized impact on our health. The mission of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is to improve the lives of all people in all buildings, everywhere, every day ( We do this by investigating the connections between the built environment and health and creating technological solutions to impact public health globally.

We are looking for students to contribute to several of our projects this summer:

  • Cities For Health – a new initiative exploring buildings role in climate change, both around mitigation and adaptation.
  • Building Materials and Chemical Exposures – a set of projects aimed at quantifying people's exposure to toxic chemicals from furniture and building products, both at Harvard and in buildings around the world.
  • The Global CogFx Study – a multi-year study investigating how buildings from around the world impact the cognitive function of workers.
  • Homes for Health – a new public health communications project outlining tips for creating a healthier home.
  • VR For Health – a research program using virtual and augmented reality to explore the impact of biophilic design on health and well-being.
  • Firefighter Health – an environmental monitoring study examining the role of the fire station on firefighter health. 

Activities for the student researcher may include:

  • Conduct field studies collecting environmental measurements in buildings
  • Organize, clean, and analyze environmental sensor data
  • Conduct literature reviews
  • Work with researchers on developing field sampling protocols
  • Recruit and manage study participants
  • Develop web content, logos, and interactive project posters

Specific activities will depend on the interests and skills of the student. We are interested in multi-disciplinary research and welcome candidates from any academic background (e.g., computer science; graphic, web and video design; environmental sciences; business; history; education). No specific academic or work prerequisites required. We are looking for outstanding team members who are: positive; independent; creative; fun; organized; interested in the built environment, health and sustainability.

Contact: Joseph Allen and Cc: Piers MacNaughton

Faculty Supervisor: Daniel Jacob
School: SEAS
Dept./Area: Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling
Project Topic: Atmospheric Modeling

The Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling Group headed by Daniel Jacob welcomes applications for summer undergraduate research assistantships. Our work focuses on understanding the chemical composition of the atmosphere, its perturbation by human activity, and the implications for climate change and life on Earth. We conduct global modeling of atmospheric chemistry and climate, aircraft measurement campaigns, satellite data retrievals, and analyses of atmospheric observations. Undergraduate research assistants are typically given responsibility for a data analysis research project. Strong interest in programming is a must.

Contact: Daniel Jacob

Faculty Supervisor: William ‘Ned’ Friedman
School: FAS
Dept./Area: Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Project Topic: It Isn’t Easy Being Temperate (If You Are A Tree)

In a highly seasonal climates, deciduous trees only have around five months a year to grow leaves and accumulate as much carbon through photosynthesis as possible before the winter sets in again. As summers in temperature zones are becoming drier and springs ever more uncertain (quickly alternating between warm and freezing), understanding when and how trees grow and when they are most productive will be invaluable for predicting how they will function in a changing climate. This project, based at the Weld Hill research labs and among the 15,000 accessioned trees of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, aims to compare physiological and developmental strategies of a closely related group of species in the walnut family over the course of a growing season. The student will be part of an active research community based at the Arboretum and training will be provided in leaf mark-recapture methods, use of equipment to measure leaf photosynthetic rates, and the measurement of leaf economic traits. 

Contact:  William ‘Ned’ Friedman

Faculty Supervisor: Michael Aziz
School: SEAS
Dept./Area:  Materials and Energy Technology
Project Topic: Component Characterization for Organic Molecule Based Flow Battery

An undergraduate research position for the summer of 2019 is available for testing and comparison of ion-selective membranes and porous electrodes for a novel flow battery for grid-scale electrical energy storage in a project described at

The mismatch between the availability of intermittent wind or sunshine and the variable demand is the biggest obstacle to using renewable sources for a large fraction of our electricity. A cost-effective means of storing large amounts of electrical energy could solve this problem.

The advantages of flow batteries are giving them increased attention for this application. Solid electrode batteries can maintain peak discharge power for less than an hour before being drained, whereas many hours to days are required for rendering renewables like wind and PV dispatchable. Because flow batteries hold all of the reactants and products in holding tanks outside the electrochemical conversion device, the device itself may be optimized for the required power while the required energy is independently determined by the mass of reactants and the size of storage tanks.

With Harvard's new flow battery chemistry, electrical energy is stored through electrochemical redox reactions of small organic molecules, and returned to the grid through the reversal of these reactions.  Among the advantages of this particular approach over other flow batteries are rapid electrochemical kinetics, inexpensive chemicals, and inexpensive components.

The student who takes this position will work with others in the Aziz and Gordon groups evaluating the properties of important components for high-performance flow batteries, such as membranes and porous electrodes in order to identify candidates that interact particularly well with our novel electrolytes. The best candidates will be placed into service in operating flow batteries and their long-term performance evaluated.

Requirements: Interested students should have undergraduate chemistry lab experience, be quick learners, have an organized, thoughtful approach to research, and bring a creative mindset for advancing this exciting technology.

Contact: Michael Aziz

Faculty Supervisor: Tina Duhaime
School: HMS
Dept./Area: Neurosurgery
Project Topic: Energy and Air Quality Optimization for a Prototype Green Children’s Hospital

HUCE Associate Faculty at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the leadership team in Capital and Facility Planning and architecture at Partners Healthcare seek a summer intern for 2018 to help research precedents for zero net energy and low toxicity buildings in a pediatric healthcare setting.  The ideal candidate would have engineering, public health, energy, architecture, and/or air quality interests. Depending on specific background and interests, the successful candidate would help collect data on what technologies have been utilized on both the demand and supply side of the energy equation in health care and related settings, what approaches to monitoring indoor air quality and designing possible feedback loops might be employed, what approaches have been used to allow for naturalistic plantings and gardens but protect from mold and pollen, and similar areas important to this ongoing project.  The intern would work with leaders in the “green hospital” movement at both the architectural and strategic level, and with faculty on the hospital staff.  Case studies and/or “white paper” output would be mentored by experts in the field, and may contribute to the ongoing design of a new facility.  The intern will gain familiarity with LEED as well as International Living Futures Institute certification processes, and how these environmental goals intersect with practical and budgetary considerations in a real-world health care architectural setting. Continued collaboration after the internship also may be possible.

Contact: Tina Duhaime

Faculty Supervisor: Dustin Tingley
School: FAS
Dept./Area: Government
Project Topic: Public Opinion and the Environment

Public opinion is an important part of studying climate change politics. We will use several different platforms, including new methods like social media sites, to conduct public opinion polls on environmental issues. We will particularly focus on reaching respondents in otherwise hard to reach areas, such as individuals in rural areas of the US and Europe. The RA will help design and field polls as well as analyze and present results.  Skills preferred: R programming

Contact: Dustin Tingley

Faculty Supervisor:  Walter Willett
School: HSPH
Dept./Area: Epidemiology and Nutrition
Project Topic: The VerEatTas Project

In order to nourish nearly 10 billion people by 2050, we need to collectively consume more sustainable diets – patterns of eating that promote human health, food security, social justice, cultural diversity, and environmental and economic well-being for present and future generations. While we often receive messages about how diet affects our health, we rarely receive information about the environmental, social, and ethical implications of our choices. Funded by Harvard University’s Climate Change Solutions Fund and implemented in collaboration with the Office for Sustainability, VerEatTas is an initiative led by researchers at the School of Public Health to improve the sustainability of dietary choices on campus by providing greater transparency around the food choices we make on campus every day. The VerEatTas project, directed by Stacy Blondin and overseen by Dr. Eric Rimm and Walter Willett, is seeking a research assistant for the 2019 summer term to help determine whether environmental footprint labeling in the Harvard undergraduate dining halls impacts student’s food choices. Preference will be given to applicants with strong data analysis skills.

Please see the following peer-reviewed journal articles if you are interested in learning more about dietary sustainability:

Contact: Stacy Blondin

Faculty Supervisor: Elsie Sunderland
School: SEAS
Dept./Area: ESE
Project Topic: Plastics and microplastics in the ocean

Increasing concern regarding the amount of plastic in the ocean and seafood prompts the need to understand the fate and distribution of these materials. We aim to understand the biogeochemical processes influencing the degradation of macroplastics to microplastics and subsequent interactions with persistent organic pollutants using a multi-box ocean model developed by our group. Students will learn how to develop and run a model, including identifying key input parameters from literature review, as well as perform scenario-based sensitivity analyses. Previous experience with a computer language such as R or Python would be an asset.

Contact: Elsie Sunderland and CC Bridger Ruyle

Faculty Supervisor: Holly Samuelson
School: GSD
Dept./Area: Architecture
Project Topic: Toward Healthy and Efficient Residential Buildings:  A Statistical Study

This research seeks to strengthen our understanding of the correlations between indoor environmental conditions, such as temperature and light, on sleep patterns in real buildings, in an effort to improve the design of passively cooled residential buildings. The research team has been collecting data on both indoor environmental conditions, such as light levels and temperature, and from wearable devices (Fitbits) which include estimates of occupants’ sleep timing and quality.  One task of the summer researcher would be to help perform a statistical analysis, such as multiple variable linear regression, (with coaching) to uncover correlations between the architectural conditions and sleep. Researcher should be familiar with Stata, R, MATLAB, or other statistical software. Concurrently, the research team will use computerized building performance simulation to answer the following questions. Would a more nuanced definition of indoor comfort conditions, one that includes conditions thought to improve sleep, change our passive architectural design strategies in residential buildings? If we prioritize sleep comfort, how would these design changes impact overall comfort and energy use?  If interested, there may be an opportunity for the summer researcher to participate in this portion of the research as well. This information could ultimately help improve the design of passively-cooled buildings, ranging from dormitories to emergency shelters.  The researcher’s participation would be contingent upon approval from the Harvard internal review board for human subject testing.

Contact: Holly Samuelson

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