Summer Research Opportunities


2020 Summer Undergraduate Research Fund

Research Assistantship Opportunities:

HUCE is offering the following opportunities for students to work with faculty this summer. In addition, we encourage students to contact a HUCE Faculty Associate to propose a research assistantship separate from this list. Our faculty associate list can be found here

The deadline for all applications is Friday, April 24 at 12:00PM.

Faculty Supervisor: Dustin Tingley  
School: School of Government  
Dept./Area: Government 
Project Topic: Climate Change Polling Visualization and Analytics 

Using a wealth of original survey data, this project will examine trends in climate change opinions across multiple countries. These surveys contain unique questions, such as how people support different types of policies designed to benefit the 'losers' of policies that will reduce emissions. Additionally, qualitative work on the policies around the world will be conducted. Skills: Thorough experience in R (a statistical programming language). 

Contact: Dustin Tingley 

Faculty Supervisors: Stephen Ansolabehere and Dustin Tingley 
School: FAS 
Department: Government 
Project Topic: Appalachia Case Study // Survey Research on Climate Policy 

We seek 2 undergraduate research assistants to assist with research conducted in conjunction with the Roosevelt Project. The Roosevelt Project seeks to understand the social, economic, and political consequences of a deeply decarbonized energy industry, especially the electricity industry. What will the transition look like? How will it affect employment and communities that are heavily dependent on fossil fuel energy, including electricity and industrial manufacturing? What policies can most effectively address the problems that these communities will face? This project is a collaboration between MIT and Harvard University, and is led by Professor Ernie Moniz of MIT. 
Position 1. Appalachia Case Study 
Beginning in June 2020, we will begin a case study of the Appalachian region, focusing on southwestern Pennsylvania. We will need assistance collecting information on the economy of the region, identifying key stakeholders and decision-makers in economic development of this area, and doing research to prepare a case study of this region. We will begin conducting interviews with key stakeholders and decision-makers late in the summer of 2020 and early in the Fall of 2020. Requirements: none; some statistical training is helpful, but not necessary. 
Position 2. Survey Research on Climate Policy 
Beginning in June 2020, we will design and implement regional surveys in four areas of the country: Appalachia, the Industrial Midwest, the Gulf Coast, and the Mountain West. These surveys will gauge public concern about climate change and public support for various policies designed to assist communities and workers adversely affected by a potential transition away from fossil fuels. We will need assistance compiling existing survey research on these topics, developing survey instruments, collecting demographic and economic information on the regions, and analyzing survey data. Requirements: some training in statistical analysis, some familiarity with either STATA or R. 

Contacts: Stephen Ansolabehere and Dustin Tingley

Faculty Supervisor: James Stock 
School: FAS
Department: Political Economy
Project Topic: Assessing the Effects of Rooftop Solar Programs 

This project entails analyzing and extending a database covering approximately 1.6 million rooftop solar installations in 25 US states between 1998 and 2018, including incentive programs. The immediate aims of the project are: (i) estimate granular (regional, income-based) demand curves for rooftop solar; and (ii) estimate the direct effect on demand of the incentive programs. A more ambitious aim is to estimate the effect of the programs on induced price reductions through learning-by-doing for rooftop installers and companies, and induced price effects on solar panels. The data set largely has been collected but needs some augmentation. It is anticipated that most of the project will be analysis of the data set. Skills needed are econometrics at the level of Econ 1123. Analysis will be done in Stata, however if you know R or Python you can learn Stata.

Contact: James Stock

Faculty Supervisor: Bill Hogan
School: HKS
Department: Global Energy Policy
Project Topic: Electricity and Government Mandates

There is a long-running but poorly formulated debate in the electricity industry on the need for government mandates for long-term contracts between generators and loads in order to support investment.  It is a claim that is often stated in axiomatic terms, without any supporting argument or evidence.  By contrast, we don’t have government mandates to buy cars, airplanes, ships, integrated chips, etc., but the manufacture of all these products requires heavy capital investment and involves facilities that are large scale and long-lived.  Hence, there is the counter argument is that there is nothing special about the electricity industry, and the government mandates contracting is just insiders using government to pursue their own economic interests.  We need to formulate this problem better, collect information on the role of voluntary versus mandated contracts in other industries, and then provide a clearer picture of whether the many mandated programs are serving public interest. 

Contact: Bill Hogan

Faculty Supervisor: Mark Wu
School: HLS
Department / Area: Law / International Governance
Project Topic: Chinese Initiatives to Tackle Climate Change Beyond Its Borders

This project examines the economic statecraft employed by China to project its influence in shaping debates and initiatives tied to global climate change. It will focus on efforts, both formal and informal, employed by the Chinese government, the China Development Bank, state-owned enterprises, and other vehicles to both finance and coordinate efforts aimed at addressing climate change outside of China’s own borders. It will also examine how China has responded to criticism levied against its Belt and Road initiative for its insufficient focus on climate-related impact. Part of the research will compare and contrast Chinese views of climate justice with those of Western thinkers as well as those from other developing countries. Among the topics to be examined include: infrastructure financing, green bonds, border tax adjustments, etc.  

Although this project is based at the law school, no background in law is required. Some proficiency in reading Chinese sources is preferred, although fluency is not required. 

Contact: Mark Wu

Faculty Supervisor: Joe Aldy  
School: HKS 
Dept./Area: Public Policy 
Project Topic: Climate-related Economic Stimulus 

The depth and breadth of economic recession expected as a result of COVID-19 has prompted calls for major policy interventions to stimulate economic recovery. Some environmental advocates have called for economic stimulus that also addresses climate change risks. This project will review the performance of past clean energy stimulus efforts, such as those in response to the 2007-2009 Great Recession, evaluate contemporary proposals for climate-related economic stimulus, assess the potential interplay between public investment and climate policy reforms, and explore how to design policy interventions to target climate change risk—such as by promoting emission reductions or enhancing resilience to climate shocks—that also spur near-term economic activity. 

Contact: Joe Aldy 

Faculty Supervisor: Michael McCormick
School: FAS 
Dept./Area: Initiative for the Science of the Human Past 
Project Topic: Creation of a Geo-database of Climate Events and Climatic Change 

Seeking undergraduate research assistant to contribute to the creation of a geo-database of climate events and climatic change. All work can be completed remotely and will involve recording, quality check, classification and eventually proximity analysis of a growing database of 30,000 historically documented climate events from the past 1500 years—the largest such database in existence—in conjunction with glaciochemical, and other natural proxies. The candidate should be familiar with Excel and Google Earth and willing to gain familiarity with Geographic Information Systems. Depending on the quality and extent of the contribution, the student will be offered co-authorship of the geo-database, to be published on our MAPS digital atlas as well as in scholarly journals.  

Contact: Michael McCormick

Faculty Supervisor: Ted Bestor 
School:  FAS 
Dept./Area: Social Anthropology 
Project Topic: Covid-19 and Global Seafood Trade              

One strand of my research over the years has been the global fisheries industries and the trade in fisheries trade, especially involving Japan and the rest of East Asia, on the one hand, and New England on the other. In recent years, for example, the volume of seafood exports from the US to Japan has averaged over $1 billion in cash value each year (with volumes measured in hundreds of thousands of metric tons). Japan imports seafood of almost all varieties and from almost all parts of the world, with China, Indonesia, Taiwan, and the U.S. being its major suppliers. In the case of New England, the regional fisheries industries are major supplies to Japan and East Asia of such products as:  bluefin tuna, lobster, sea urchin (uni), and monkfish, among others. 
            Covid-19 has disrupted the seafood industry in many ways. The closing of restaurants in Japan, parts of China, the US, parts of Europe, and elsewhere has substantially lowered demand for seafood products; local fishing communities have been disrupted; restaurants have been closed here and abroad; distancing requirements have meant that production facilities have had to cut back or eliminate processing and shipping; limitations on airlines have affected the ability to ship fresh seafood from one part of the world to another.  At all stages in the food chains that link production, processing, distribution, and consumption, Covid-19 has created bottlenecks or outright blockages. 
            This project is intended to try to document the effect of Covid-19 on the seafood trade, by collecting and analyzing reports and bulletins from government agencies, trade groups, specialized trade journals, and general newspapers; collecting statistics where available on trends in production, consumption, and so forth; and contacting agencies and organizations (such as the US National Marine Fisheries Service, or the East Coast Tuna Association, or the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, etc.) to gather personal experiences, insights and perspectives on the situation.  
            The project will collect data on, and provide descriptive analysis (at least) on the linkages inherent in the global fishing industry (primarily in two regions, New England and Japan, although other regions may also be explored). The focus of the project will be on documenting the often subtle interrelationships among environmental, economic, political, social, and cultural factors that constitute a vital food chain. 

A student researcher should have the following skills and attributes: 
a)    Excellent research skills using a variety of digital search engines 
b)    Ability to accurately record information (both numerical and textual) and to document sources of information 
c)    At least some coursework in the social sciences 

And, ideally, one or more of the following: 
d)    An interest in fisheries and related environmental issues (e.g., overfishing, global warming’s impact on fisheries, and so forth) 
e)    An interest in international affairs 
f)     An interest in food culture 
g)    If you have reading ability in either Japanese or Chinese, that would be a real bonus (but not required). 
Contact: Ted Bestor 

Faculty Supervisor:  Frank Keutsch  
School:  SEAS 
Dept./Area: Chemistry and Chemical Biology 
Project Topic: Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) 

The Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx), is a stratospheric propelled balloon experiment that will conduct experiments better some of the risks and efficacy of stratospheric solar geoengineering. We have three projects for undergraduate summer research. 

  • The SCoPEx payload requires a method of measuring the wind at the location of the payload. We will be using photos of a pendulum for real time wind measurements during the mission. An image analysis program and a 3D driven pendulum differential equation code will run on a raspberry pi. We have written a preliminary code in Mathematica that needs to be tested and optimized. This may include a translation into python. The student would run speed tests of the code and help refine the code or translate it into python. The project would also provide background in different approaches to wind measurements and stratospheric geoengineering. Useful skills/knowledge: Classical mechanics, Mathematica, Python  
  • SCoPEx requires quantifying the size distribution of particles for our particle injection system. This will require a low-pressure chamber that can connect our injector system and particle counter. This system will also be used to calibrate our particle counter. The student would help design the chamber and perform some analysis of the proposed chamber. This project would use a CAD program and Comsol to model different configurations of the chamber. The student would need to determine appropriate pump rates for different configurations. Lastly, they would be asked to approximate the cost of building such a chamber. The project would also provide background in aerosol microphysics and stratospheric geoengineering. 
  • We require some basic heat loss calculations for unusually shaped particles in the stratosphere. This project has applications to creating manmade particles that could levitate in the stratosphere and be used as atmospheric sensors. We are using a direct simulation Monte Carlo code called Sparta that was written at Sandia. The project would involve formatting new output files that would be useful to our analysis, coding new shapes in Sparta, and getting Sparta to run on the cluster. The Project would also provide background of the fundamentals of levitated particles and stratospheric geoengineering. Useful skills/knowledge: Running code on a cluster, gas kinetics, unix command line 

Contact: Frank Keutsch 

Faculty Supervisor: Frank Keutsch  
School:  SEAS 
Dept./Area: Chemistry and Chemical Biology 
Project Topic: Tropospheric Chemistry 

  • Investigation of laboratory and field evidence of unexplained photochemical surface reactions of multifunctional organic hydroperoxides. Multifunctional organic hydroperoxides are a critical component of preindustrial atmospheres. Recent laboratory studies in the Keutsch Group have shown an unknown, rapid photochemical loss of these compounds on numerous types of surfaces (metals, teflon, plants). This process is not part of current understanding of tropospheric chemistry and has the potential to significantly change tropospheric composition in environments with high surface area, such as forests. The project will combine results from laboratory studies with a plethora of field studies to evaluate conditions under which this mechanism is most effective. The results will represent a significant advance of our understanding of the conditions that are favorable to this process. It will guide future studies planned for the fall of 2020. The project will also provide background in tropospheric chemistry. Useful skills/knowledge: basic organic chemistry, Matlab or similar skills for data analysis 
  • Investigation of the optimal tracer for tropospheric oxidative capacity. The oxidative capacity of the troposphere determines the lifetime of emissions, as well as their fate, in particular the formation of pollutants such as particulate matter and ozone. The OH radical is the most important oxidant but measurements of OH are extremely challenging and prone to artifacts and interferences. An alternate approach is to use a precursor and its oxidation product to estimate the concentration of OH. In particular a combination of such reactant-product pairs is promising. The project will utilize a large set of field data to evaluate all available compound data to quantify the utility of different approaches of OH tracers. The project will also provide background in tropospheric chemistry. Useful skills/knowledge: Matlab or similar skills for data analysis 

Contact: Frank Keutsch 

Faculty Supervisor: Marissa Grunes  
School: FAS 
Dept./Area: English 
Project Topic: Antarctic Research  

The Antarctic plays an important but often-overlooked role in both the climate and the culture of our planet. How can we understand the place of this region in the collective literary, artistic, and cultural imagination? How do perceptions of the Antarctic vary from place to place, and how have they changed over time? I am currently writing a book on the environmental and cultural impact of the Antarctic region, and seek an undergraduate advisee interested in pursuing an independent research project on questions related to the Antarctic. Research will be student-driven, and the resulting full-length (30-40pp.) publishable research paper may tackle a topic related to the Antarctic and any of the following: world or national literatures; film; the visual arts; popular media; climate change and “apocalyptic” environmental narratives; political rhetoric; geopolitics; history of science; the collective practice of science (e.g. international collaboration in the ITGC Thwaites Glacier Project; Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR); etc.), or any other topic in the humanities of interest to the student. 

Contact: Marissa Grunes  

Faculty Supervisor: Jake Seeley 
School: FAS 
Dept./Area: EPS, SEAS 
Project Topic: The Future of Lightning in a Warming World 

Lightning ignites a large fraction of wildfires and significantly influences atmospheric chemistry. But will global warming cause an increase in lightning frequency? A recent study (Romps et al. 2014) predicted that lightning frequency in the United States may increase by about 50% over the course of the 21st century due to global warming. However, that study used an outdated generation of climate models, and did not make predictions for land areas outside the United States. This summer research project will involve working with output from state-of-the art climate models to shed light on the future of lightning in a warming world. The student who undertakes this project will gain skills in big data analysis and an understanding of the basic atmospheric physics of lightning and global warming. Some prior experience with coding, preferably but not necessarily in Python, is required. Experience with math and physics at the beginning undergraduate level is suggested. 

Contact: Jake Seeley  

Faculty Supervisor:  Bruno Carvalho 
School: FAS 
Dept./Area:  Urban Planning and Design 
Project Topic: Case Studies about the Future in Historical Perspective  

I am working on a project on expectations about the future in historical perspective, which raises questions like: how did people in the past forecast the environmental impact of a particular infrastructure project? What can we learn from studying their record as prognosticators? One of the case studies involves a 1970s highway and a dam project in the Amazon. Another involves how articles in the popular press, during the dawn of the oil age, envisioned energy systems in the 21st century. It would be great to work with an undergraduate on this research, and in identifying and figuring out interesting case studies, with a focus on past predictions about the ecological impacts of urbanization. Some overarching questions: how do expectations about the future help to shape the present? How might futures imagined in the past help us to address current urban and environmental challenges? Sources would include reports and articles available in digital archives of newspapers, magazines, and various organizations. The plan is for results from this to live on in a website and a book. 

Contact: Bruno Carvalho  

Faculty Supervisor: Missy Holbrook  
School:  FAS 
Dept./Area: OEB, ESPP 
Project Topic: Leaves in Trouble: The Challenge of Managing High Frequency Transpiration Dynamics in a Warming World 

Leaves of flowering plants achieve high stomatal conductances in part due to the shrinkage of adjacent epidermal cells as transpiration lowers the water content of a leaf. The coupling of desiccation to increasing stomatal aperture (and its reverse, hydration driving closing) means that the “passive” hydraulic behavior of stomata is pathological (resulting in “wrong-way” responses), and requires metabolically active regulation of solute molecules by guard cells to rectify. However, this active regulation occurs over time scales of minutes to tens of minute, while in in-situ leaf thermocouple data show us that leaves of temperate trees (e.g., red oak at Harvard Forest) experience high frequency (time scale of seconds) temperature fluctuations with amplitudes of as much as 10 degrees celsius. Such temperature fluctuations translate into high frequency, high amplitude leaf to air vapor pressure differences, combined with passive stomatal  “wrong-way responses,” could place leaves in danger of entering into a “doom loop” of xylem cavitation and desiccation driven stomatal opening. The necessity of avoiding such high-frequency transient losses of effective stomatal control may play a role in setting the characteristic leaf to air temperature differences a species operates at, which have a large impact on leaf water use efficiency. This project would explore high frequency leaf temperature and micrometeorological data for leaves operating in different temperature regimes, in order to better understand how challenged leaves are by high frequency environmental perturbations, and how these responses might change under future climates characterized by higher partial pressure of CO2 and lower partial pressures of water vapor. 

The ideal student for this project will have a strong quantitative and modeling background, familiarity with MatLab or Scientific Python programming a plus. 

Contact: Missy Holbrook

Faculty Supervisor: Pablo Pérez-Ramos 
School:  GSD 
Dept./Area:  Landscape Architecture 
Project Topic: The Possible Garden: Arid Landscape Morphologies and the Islamic Agronomic Tradition 

This project looks at oases, that is, cultivated landscapes in conditions of severe aridity, where agricultural practices have led to the emergence of life at levels of abundance and complexity that would otherwise not be possible. It studies the morphology of these agricultural landscapes at the intersection of their encompassing geomorphological conditions, and the agronomic and horticultural techniques in place, many of which can be traced a thousand years back through the Islamic tradition of agroecology. This research project would be of particular interest for students concerned with the physical and human geographies of arid lands, with Islamic studies, vernacular technologies and landscapes, environmental history, and landscape adaptation to climate change.

Contact: Pablo Pérez-Ramos   

Faculty Supervisors:  Peter Hybers and Angela Rigden 
School: FAS 
Dept./Area: EPS and ESE 
Project Topic: Predicting Madagascar's Agricultural Yields 

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and frequently suffers from food shortages. In this project, we aim to understand the relationship between weather conditions and food production in Madagascar using observations from satellites. Can we forecast food shortages using satellite observations in order to better deliver food aid?  And does the short-term response to weather provide insight into the longer-term influences that climate change will have on Madagascar's agriculture? Although there are no formal prerequisites, background in physics, math, statistics. and/or computer science would be helpful as preparation for pursuing research in this area. 

Contact: Peter Huybers and Angela Rigden 

Faculty Supervisor: Missy Holbrook 
School: FAS 
Dept./Area: OEB, ESPP 
Project Topic: Trees and Carbon Sequestration 

The goal of this project is to critically assess the potential for forests and forest management to sequester carbon into stems, roots and soil at a rate and timescale that could provide a meaningful impact on growth in atmospheric CO2 levels. We will use landscape scale (satellite) data on forest biomass and productivity, as well as experimental studies of tree growth and productivity in response to elevated CO2 and temperature, to estimate the carbon potential of natural afforestation. We will also examine the potential of planting tree and determine whether the “unused” land needed for this to make a significant contribution actually exists. Finally, we will consider proposals to enhance belowground carbon pools either through altered agricultural practice or by genetically modifying plants so that they increase cutin/suberin production by their roots. 

Some background in plant physiology and/or ecology desirable, but not required. 

Contact: Missy Holbrook

Faculty Supervisor: Naomi Pierce  
School:  FAS 
Dept./Area:  OEB 
Project Topic: Orchids and orchid bees: a model system to investigate how to prioritize pollinator protection 

The worldwide decline in insect populations presents a major threat to the stability of ecosystems and the viability of agriculture. Theory predicts that specialized species are at greater risk of extinction than are generalized ones. A critical component in assessing the threat status of specialists is to estimate the phylogenetic diversity of the interacting species. In this project, the undergraduate student will gather sequence data and learn how to reconstruct robust phylogenies of orchids and euglossine bees. The student will gain skills in applying metrics of phylogenetic diversity and evolutionary distinctiveness, along with distribution and abundance data, to characterize the threat status of the pollinators included in this study. 

Contact: Naomi Pierce

Faculty Supervisor: Ann-Christine Duhaime  
School:  HMS 
Dept./Area: MGH/Healthcare 
Project Topic: Designs for Environmentally Responsible Health Care Facilities 

Physician researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital are looking for Harvard undergraduate interns to work on a variety of projects relevant to environmental considerations in the health care setting.  Students may be considered from a variety of concentrations and interests depending on the specific focus of the project.  Past interns have focused on health facility energy modeling, optimizing “green space” design in an urban hospital setting, and design of a portable in-room enclosed “ecosphere” that allows patients to view plants that could be grown for food right in their rooms but not expose them to mold or pollen.  Internships can be undertaken remotely, include at least twice weekly virtual meetings, and interns are expected to produce a written summary of research findings. 

Several research areas are available, as follows: 

  • An ongoing project involves the design and testing of a surgical and procedural mask that is fabric-based, washable, modular in design for different purposes, is effective in the setting of viral pandemics, and could serve as a more permanent solution to current shortages in disposable personal protective equipment, while still meeting all regulatory requirements and being cost-effective.  We could use students experienced or interested in life cycle analysis, materials engineering, design, market surveys, business, and health and occupational regulations. 
  • Mass General currently is involved in a wide-ranging effort to improve its environmental profile with a number of possible projects in energy, waste, toxicity, air quality, building design, supply chain, public and community health effects, and communications.  
  • An ongoing project to design a “green children’s hospital” includes the potential research areas noted above and others relevant to pediatric healthcare, including specific considerations for children’s health and psychological well-being.  
  • We also are interested in collecting data on the impact of “greening healthcare” – is this a reasonable thing to do?  If it has impact, is it for “symbolic” purposes, marketing, or actual health or well-being effects?  Does anything done in the U.S. translate to the broader health care systems worldwide, or are they more “special cases” applicable only to wealthier countries? Students interested in history of science, public relations/marketing, economics, global health, and other relevant fields would use case studies, hospital annual reports, published literature and other data to help address these questions. 

Contact: Ann-Christine Duhaime 

Faculty Supervisor: Dan Nocera  
School: FAS 
Dept./Area: Chemistry and Chemical Biology 
Project Topic: Sustainable Energy Analysis 

One of the greatest challenges currently facing humanity is the ability to meeting world's energy needs in a sustainable way. One pathway toward that end involves using carbon-neutral fuels generated from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. Our group is particularly interested in generating clean hydrogen fuel by splitting water into hydrogen gas and oxygen gas using sunlight as an energy supply. Such process is typically carried out in a device called electrolyzer under harsh conditions (i.e., in strongly acidic or strongly alkaline solutions) using metal-based catalysts. To minimize the environmental impact and facilitate the scalability of this approach, particularly in nonlegacy countries, we are developing self-healing water-splitting catalysts that function in various abundant neutral or near-neutral water sources, including river water, seawater, and wastewater. The summer student can help with the design of such catalysts and clean hydrogen production systems by (1) investigating the composition of different water sources available for industrial use across the globe, (2) comparing the cost and environmental impact of different water purification treatments, and (3) comparing the cost and environmental impact of various solar-driven hydrogen production systems employing our catalysts. The aforementioned work will be conducted remotely and the student is expected to work consistently throughout the term, write weekly progress reports, and have frequent online discussions with the mentor. Further information: No prerequisites other than interest in energy and sustainability. Interested applicants can email Dr. Agnes Thorarinsdottir with any questions they may have regarding the project. 

Contact: Agnes Thorarinsdottir

Faculty Supervisors:  Henry Lee
School: HKS 
Dept./Area: ENRP 
Project Topic: Environment and Natural Resources Program Research 

Students will assist ENRP in advancing our current research projects and goals. Projects will be assigned based on students’ areas of expertise and interests. Possible topics include: 

  • Climate Change and Infrastructure. Research on the impact of climate change on global public infrastructure such as transportation, energy, water and sanitation, and telecommunications; how cities, states, regions and countries have responded; and what adaptation measure can and should be adopted. 
  • Climate change in the Arctic is impacting the infrastructure in the region – including pipes, roads, airports, energy systems, and water and sanitation. Possible regional focus on Russia. Or exploring energy options in a region that has historically relied on high-priced diesel generators. What are the opportunities for non-fossil fuel-based power alternatives, etc.? 
  • Renewable Hydrogen. Our recent research “Geopolitical and Market Implications of Renewable Hydrogen: New Dependences in a Low-Carbon Energy World” explores the implications of renewable hydrogen adoption at scale and the roles different nations might play in a future global hydrogen industry. We have specifically focused on China thus far; we now want to use the same analytical framework to assess the potential of renewable hydrogen in Japan and India. 
  • Integration along the Energy Value Chain. We will address the key issue of how an accelerated transition to a low carbon economy might affect integration and/or segmentation scenarios along global energy systems value chains and what effect technology innovation might have. This will require identifying technologies that highlight the associated challenges and opportunities while addressing how policy might affect these scenarios. 
  • Water-Energy Nexus and/or Biofuels. We will research and assess a range of strategies and policies to address the economic viability, public perception, and political implementation of green chemistry and biofuel technologies, while assessing and analyzing new ideas that could spur innovation. 
  • Electric Vehicles. Research on battery technologies and charging systems. Most major automobile companies have made electric vehicle production commitments to manufacture. What is the status of these efforts in both China and the United States, and what is the prognosis for the next five years?

Contacts: Amanda Sardonis

Faculty Supervisor: Scott Edwards 
School: FAS 
Dept./Area: Organismic and Evolutionary Biology  
Project Topic: Computational Analysis of Adaptation and Immunity in Avian Genomes 

We will use bioinformatic techniques on already-available genomes to understand how birds are evolving in response to the ongoing pressure of diseases and pathogens. The Edwards lab has numerous genomes we have produced over the past two years that require analysis using computational methods. Specifically, we will use computer languages such as R, unix and python to compare the sequences of immune genes such as the major histocompatibility complex, or MHC, between different species of birds to quantify how rapidly these genes are evolving. By comparing genetic signatures in species from habitats with varying impacts of climate change, we can begin to understand ways in which climate change influences pathogen pressure and, ultimately, avian genomes. Online sessions will consist of training of students in basic bioinformatic techniques and how to access genomes for analysis. No prior computer skills required. 

Contact: Scott Edwards

Faculty Supervisor: Jemma Deer  
School: FAS  
Dept./Area: Literature/Environmental Humanities 
Project Topic: Stories of Contagion 

My research is concerned with asking what it means to be human in the Anthropocene, as we grapple with the existential threats posed by global heating, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation. Through readings of literature and philosophy, my work examines the crucial roles played by language, narrative and psychology in both the creation of, and responses to, today’s environmental and socio-political challenges.  

In light of the current global pandemic, the undergraduate project will focus on stories of contagion and disease, examining texts from a set period or genre to determine how we narrativize pathogens and the threats they pose to human health and civilizations. The project will be attentive to two different notions of the viral: the narrow epidemiological sense, and the sense of memetic contagion through which cultural artefacts are said to “go viral”. Depending on the applicant’s specialisms or interests, these texts could be from English literature, world literature, comparative literature, scifi or film. I will work with the applicant on determining the sample of texts to be analysed, and offer guidance on research methods and writing with the view to producing a conference paper or essay on this topic.

Contact: Jemma Deer  

Faculty Supervisor:  Naomi Oreskes 
School:  FAS 
Dept./Area:  History of Science 
Project Topic: Land Use Requirements for Utility-Scale Renewable Energy 

This project examines the environmental and legal aspects of the land use requirements for utility-scale renewable energy. with a focus on California and Utah.  
In Utah, we will examine land availability around an existing gas-fired power plant, the Delta plant, located on Bureau of Land Management lands, adjacent to an existing high voltage power line that connects to the grid in California.  This plant, formerly one of the country’s largest coal-fired power plants, recently converted from coal to natural gas, in order to supply electricity to California under that state’s renewable energy portfolio requirement. The student RA will undertake calculations of land use demands to create a utility-scale plant in this vicinity, and assist with writing a proposal for wind-power in this area. There may be an opportunity to collaborate with local NGOs and business leaders working to promote renewable energy in Utah. 
In California, we will examine the potential jurisdiction of the California Energy Commission to approve streamlined siting of utility-scale solar PV on private lands. In California, a majority of its utility-scale solar projects as of 2015 sited on previously-undisturbed landscapes, mostly on federal lands. Here there may be an opportunity to assist in writing, and be a co-author on, a paper for an Environmental Law Review. 
The student will work closely with Professor Oreskes and PhD-JD candidate Ashton MacFarlane. It is one project but it has two parts, so I could easily take two students if available and funds permit.

Contact: Naomi Oreskes 

Faculty Supervisor:  Robert Stavins 
School:  HKS 
Dept./Area:  Energy and Economic Development 
Project Topic: A Summer of Supervised Independent Research in Environmental Economics and Policy 

For this summer of research, the student proposes a topic, which applies economic thinking and economic analysis to a policy problem in the realm of environmental, energy, and natural resources. Working with Professor Robert Stavins (Harvard Kennedy School), the student researcher will refine the topic to one that is interesting, feasible, and falls within the scope of environmental economics. Next the student researcher will develop–with guidance from Professor Stavins–an outline of the paper the student will eventually write, and then a work plan of steps to be taken from the beginning to the end of the project, including the key sources of information. After that, the student researcher will meet approximately once per week with Professor Stavins in Zoom session, until the paper is completed. The best applicants will have studied basic environmental economics, such as in Economics 1661, however that is not a prerequisite.

Contact: Robert Stavins   

Faculty Supervisor:  Bill Clark and Alicia Harley  
School: HKS 
Dept./Area:  Sustainability Science 
Project Topic: Sustainable Development: Linking Theory and Practice 

The scientific literature on sustainable development has been expanding rapidly in recent years. Among other things, it has argued that 5 managerial capacities are necessary for the successful pursuit of sustainability: the capacity to measure sustainable development, the capacity to advance the equity goals of sustainability both within and among generations; the capacity to adapt development pathways to protect human well-being in the face of shocks; the capacity to transform unsustainable pathways into sustainable ones; and the capacity to build governance relationships to integrate and implement the other capacities. At the same time, reformers at work on the front lines of sustainable development have been actively experimenting, amassing experience and promulgating “best practices” for use by their peers. Unfortunately, too often the findings of scientific theory on the one hand and practical experience on the other have passed in the night with little apparent influence upon one another. This research aims to help bridge the resulting theory-practice gap. 

This research project would be supervised by Drs. William Clark and Alicia Harley of Harvard’s Sustainability Science Program. Both are researchers in the field of sustainable development and co-teach the subject at the College. Clark is currently co-chairing the committee responsible for drafting Harvard’s second 5-year sustainability plan. The student(s) selected for the project would be expected to research and serve as lead author on a paper analyzing the theory-practice gap on one of the 5 capacities listed above. The paper, if of suitable quality, would be published in the Sustainability Science Program’s Working Paper series and submitted to an appropriate field journal. Its results would also serve as input to a larger project on the capacities for sustainable development that is being run by Drs. Clark and Harley. 

The choice of which capacity to study would be based on the interests and background of the student. The basic research strategy would involve the following steps conducted under the guidance of Drs. Clark and Harley: 1) familiarization with the relevant theory; 2) interviews with master practitioners of the selected capacity, using snowball techniques to identify what the practitioner community judges to be the best cases of good practice; 3) written summary of findings from the practitioner interviews; 4) analysis of the (mis)match between the theory and practice; and 5) preparation of a report, targeted for formal publication with the student as lead author in an appropriate venue. 
The initial project would require 1-2 months of work undertaken sometime over the period of May-August 2020. Ideally, multiple students would be engaged in parallel projects, each focused on a different capacity. The research position(s) would be renewable based on performance. 

Contacts: Bill Clark and Alicia Harley

Faculty Supervisor: Mike McElroy 
School: SEAS 
Dept./Area: Environmental Studies  
Project Topic: Global Projections of Future Air Conditioning Demand in General Circulation Models // Investigating the Effect of Coronavirus Pandemic on Air Quality and Associated Human Health in India 
Summer Project 1: Global Projections of Future Air Conditioning Demand in General Circulation Models 
A recent climate report from McKinsey & Company found that future climate change could increase the probability of a lethal heat wave in parts of India from roughly 10% today to over 70% by 2050. Such changes would have obvious effects on the livelihoods of over 1/6th of the global population, including the greater need for air conditioning availability. The project will evaluate projected changes to electricity demand in India associated with air conditioning under several future climate scenarios from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project version 6 (CMIP6) ensemble. The aim will be to assess the added stress to India’s electricity grid from additional air conditioning and how this could fundamentally alter the daily pattern of electricity demand and affect the potential to decarbonize the country. The expected deliverable for this project will be a report either in the form of a blog post on the Harvard-China Project website or a scientific journal article depending on the progress made over the summer. 
Summer Project 2: Investigating the Effect of Coronavirus Pandemic on Air Quality and Associated Human Health in India 
The ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has a profound environmental impact over many regions of the world, including India, the country with the worst air quality and over one billion population. The severe air pollution has caused over one million premature deaths per year in India. The tight lockdown of this country has provided a unique natural experiment to assess the efficiency of air pollution mitigation and the associated health effect. People have already felt the change in air quality due to the strict control measures that also reduce emissions of air pollutants, such as this recent news report. This summer project provides an opportunity for the student to investigate the effect of coronavirus pandemic on air quality and associated human health in India. The undergrad student will gather available observational data from India and compare them with data from other years. Further steps are to use air quality model data (provided by the faculty advisor) to evaluate the effectiveness of different control measures (for example, transportation related emissions). The student will also estimate the lives saved by the air quality improvement due to the coronavirus pandemic. The outcome of this summer project will be of great interest to the air pollution and environmental policy in India. 

Contact: Mike McElroy

Faculty Supervisor:  Noreen Tuross  
School: FAS 
Dept./Area: Human Evolutionary Biology 
Project Topic: Analyzing Atmospheric CO2 Data 

The rise in atmospheric CO2 is recorded in a number of proxies. Join us in analyzing the high-resolution data from a new terrestrial source of this important information. 
Looking for an energetic person to be involved in a historic and modern CO2 proxy project. You should be comfortable with organizing data in excel and designing graphs. We will meet remotely as needed.  

Contact: Noreen Tuross

Faculty Supervisor: Ann Forsyth 
School: GSD 
Dept./Area: Urban Planning 
Project Topic: Aging, Housing, Neighborhoods, and Climate Change 

As communities across the U.S. seek to enhance their resiliency in the face of challenges posed by climate change, older adults are a particularly vulnerable population. Most report wanting to age in their “own” homes whether the home of their middle years or one they move to in retirement. Unfortunately, many of these homes are vulnerable to problems associated with climate change. Key examples of climate change vulnerability related to housing and neighborhoods include: regional location in vulnerable areas, physical homes that are not resilient, and reduced social networks with age. The HUCE funded undergraduate work work to (a) help identify how much older people have been affected by climate related events in the U.S. and (b) Using existing data sets such as the American Community Survey and Health and Retirement Survey, explore how vulnerable older people are to potential future climate change related problems.

Contact: Ann Forsyth  

Faculty Supervisor:  Daniel Jacob  
School: Chemistry 
Dept./Area: Atmoshperic Chemistry Modeling Group   
Project Topic: Modeling of Atmospheric Chemistry 

The Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling Group welcomes applications from Harvard undergraduates interested in computational/statistical research related to climate and air quality issues. Undergraduate research assistants will work closely with a student, postdoc, or senior programmer in the group.   Some experience and strong interest in scientific programming are required. Visit us at 

Contact: Daniel Jacob

Faculty Supervisor: Carl Wunsch  
School: FAS 
Dept./Area:  Earth and Planetary Sciences 
Project Topic:  Ocean El Niño 

The El Nino-La Nina ENSO cycle is one of the dominant oceanic features in the climate system. An existing estimate of the three-dimensional state of the ocean over a 26 year period is available for analysis to describe and understand ENSO both in the tropics where it is strongest, but also its oceanic features distant from the equator. Best for a student with a little knowledge of fluid dynamics, and of analysis software such as MATLAB or equivalent. 

Contact: Carl Wunsch

Faculty Supervisor: Susan Crawford  
School: HLS 
Dept./Area: Law 
Project Topic: Case Studies on Climate Adaptation 

People in America expect things from government, like clean water, sewer service, basic education, and cheap power and telecommunications. These days, people should also expect that their government will protect them from the ravages of climate change, including chronic flooding and extreme heat. Yet after forty years of steady, intentional dismantling of the idea that the government should play a role in the social and economic health of its citizens, a parade of horribles (legal jingo!) is upon us. I am looking for thorough, thoughtful research assistance this summer on a host of case studies about the current, failed state of reality in several areas—chiefly climate adaptation, but also other forms of public infrastructure.  

Contact: Susan Crawford

Faculty Supervisor: Jason Ur  
School: FAS 
Dept./Area: Anthropolgy 
Project Topic: Historical Environments of the Middle East via Declassified Intelligence Satellite Imagery 

Prof. Jason Ur in the Department of Anthropology seeks a research assistant for a project to reconstruct historical landscapes of 20th century (ca. 1958-1984) in the Middle East from declassified US intelligence sources (e.g., the U2 aerial photography program, the CORONA and HEXAGON satellite reconnaissance programs).  The project aims to describe the impacts of state programs such as dams, irrigation systems, and marsh drainage on the natural and cultural landscapes, with a particular focus on human settlement in rural areas of the Republic of Iraq.  This project requires basic skills in GIS and some familiarity with remote sensing. 

Contact: Jason Ur

Faculty Supervisor: Gareth Doherty 
School: GSD 
Dept./Area: Landscape Design 
Project Topic: Designing with Darkness 

Within the context of a significant rise in temperatures due to global climate change, more and more people will inhabit the nighttime because of its cooler temperatures, as already happens in the hot arid climates of the Middle East. As a result, public spaces will be increasingly used more after darkness falls. Through gathering and analyzing examples of projects, programs and technologies that celebrate the nighttime, the ‘Designing with Darkness’ project will ask: how, rather than ‘fighting the night,’ with lighting, can designers work with darkness to create more usable, sustainable, and environmentally-sensitive public spaces? (No design skills are required.) 

Contact: Gareth Doherty 

Faculty Supervisor: Gareth Doherty 
School: GSD 
Dept./Area: Landscape Design 
Project Topic: Cities, Climate, Color 

This project investigates the environmental impacts of colors in urban public space and their capacity to mitigate the impacts of changing climates. Working with the PI, the student will contribute to building up a catalogue of colors and their environmental properties. Some Adobe Photoshop skills would be helpful, but not required. 

Contact: Gareth Doherty 

Faculty Supervisor: David Jones 
School: FAS, HMS 
Dept./Area: History of Science, Global Health and Social Medicine 
Project Topic: History of the Health Effects of Air Pollution

I am engaged in two historical research projects about our evolving knowledge of the health effects of air pollution (and the political debates that have ensnared this research), one focused on the United States (a history of the Harvard Six Cities Study), and one focused on India (a history of the linked problems of air pollution and heart disease there). Research for either project would be based in Cambridge and involve finding relevant sources (mostly through online resources, sometimes through library collections) and analyzing them (e.g., I have a set of 1000 articles from English-language Indian newspapers that need to be read and analyzed in search of interesting anecdotes and relevant narratives). Scheduling, both of the work itself and of mentoring meetings, is flexible. 

Contact:David Jones

Faculty Supervisor: William (Ned) Friedman  
School:  FAS  
Dept./Area: Organismic and Evolutionary Biology   
Project Topic: Sustainable Practices in a Historic Urban Landscape and Garden  

Management practices in historic gardens are evolving quickly in response to changing climate, new plant pathogens and insect pests, and demands for more efficient stormwater management, energy consumption, and chemical use. In this project, the intern will inventory current management practices in the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, with particular attention to soil quality and compaction, irrigation and stormwater management, and fertilizer, insecticide, and pesticide use. The intern will also conduct a comparative study of other historic gardens to inventory common and best practices in such areas as soil improvement, composting, and integrated pest management, biological controls, and companion plants. The intern will work closely with horticultural staff to learn about new and more sustainable approaches to management of historic gardens. This project will provide the opportunity to explore the intersection of horticultural practice, design specifications, and the responsibilities of stewarding a historic landscape.   

Contact: Ned Friedman

Faculty Supervisor: Loretta J. Mickley
School: SEAS
Dept./Area: Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling
Project Topic: Atmospheric Modeling

Our research focuses on chemistry-climate interactions in the troposphere. We seek to understand how gases and particles affect climate and how climate change, in turn, can influence the composition of the atmosphere. Sample topics include (1) the effects of climate change on the frequency of smog episodes or wildfires and (2) the impact of trends in anthropogenic particles on regional climate. Our group analyzes observational datasets from a range of sources (ground-based monitors, aircraft, and satellites) and conducts modeling studies of atmospheric chemistry and climate. Project for undergraduates typically involve data analysis. Interest in programming is essential.

Contact: Loretta J. Mickley

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: Jack Spengler
School: HSPH
Dept./Area: Environmental Health
Project Topic: Learning about Climate Change through Immersive Virtual Experience

Virtual Reality (VR) can provide immersive virtual experience for participant to engage with some environments that may not common to everyday life. It has a huge potential as a tool to facilitate learning because the VR could produce highly engaging experiences, which help learner to focus and understand the topics. This project aims to test whether students can gain more knowledge about the consequences of climate change and how their environmental attitudes change in immersive VR than traditional teaching approaches. We will recruit 60 participants for a between-subject design experiment. They will be randomly assigned to VR or control group. In VR group, they will watch 20 min 360 videos on consequences of climate change. In control group, they will read the similar materials but through desktop. Before and after survey on their environmental attitudes will be contacted. Also, questionnaires will be designed to assess the knowledge gain from both groups. HUCE summer research assistants will help with investigators preparing and conducting the experiment, collecting and analyzing the data.

Contact: Jack Spengler

Faculty Supervisor: Joseph Allen
School: HSPH
Dept./Area: Healthy Buildings Group
Project Topic: Research Assistantship to Work in an Exciting and Impactful Project Focused on Healthy and Sustainable Built Environment

About Us: We are a diverse team of researchers in Healthy Buildings Group at the Harvard School of Public Health. We come from various backgrounds and fields - such as biology, environmental health, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, environmental engineering, atmospheric science, computer science, and environmental science and policy, to name a few. Despite our diverse backgrounds, we all share our interest and passion in improving the health and well-being of the public by making the environments in which people spend the majority of their lifetime healthier and more sustainable.
About the Projects: All of our projects share a similar understanding that the built environment impacts health. Our current projects include investigating the energy, climate, and health co-benefits of more energy efficient buildings; the impact of temperature on creativity; comparing the impact of office buildings on cognitive function across multiple countries and levels of building “greenness”; policies and practices within fire stations that could reduce exposure to carcinogens; exposure to harmful chemicals through building materials; and more. For more detailed information on the projects, visit
Responsibilities for any of these projects could include organizing study equipment, fieldwork, interacting with participants, tracking, organizing, and analyzing data, literature reviews, and assistance drafting manuscripts.
About You: Experience and/or background in thermodynamics, heat transfer, building energy analysis and modeling, the built environment, study design, and data analysis is a plus. However, it's not mandatory to have all these specific skills. Your background and skills in any of the STEM fields are welcome in our team. If you bring your talent, your ambition and drive to do research, and your teachability, we will provide mentorship and resources for you to develop the project-specific skills. Above all, we are looking for someone who is a good person and a team player.

Contact: Joseph Allen

Faculty Supervisors: Wendy Purcell and Jack Spengler 
School: HSPH
Dept./Area: Environmental Health
Project Topic: Create Learning Modules on the New Harvard LabXchange Platform 

The new public access LabXchange platform will be used to assemble personalized learning modules on various environmental, climate, nature, and sustainability topics. Initially, this project will utilize the archived resources of Living on Earth which date back to 1991. Learning modules will be augmented with other resources (reports, articles, podcasts, TED Talks, news accounts, etc.) available in the public domain. The research assistant will be directed by Prof. Wendy Purcell and Prof. Spengler along with grad students and post docs. Providing overall guidance and advice will be Steve Curwood ( Staff on LabXchange will provide technical support.

Contacts: Wendy Purcell and Jack Spengler 

Faculty Supervisors: Eric Rimm and Walter Willett
School: HSPH
Dept./Area: Nutrition
Project Topic: VerEatTas
Number of Positions: 2

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 and behaviors 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 2020 summer term. Preference will be given to applicants with strong data analysis skills.

Contact: Stacy Blondin

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