Summer Research Opportunities

2017 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: Eli Tziperman
School: SEAS
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 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 thermohaline circulation, and cold past climates such as the glacial cycles of the past 3 million years, and the preceding warm climates with implications to future climate change as well. Typical projects involve Matlab programming and the analysis of climate models or data. More information on our web page: http://www.seas.harvard.edu/climate/eli/Level2/research.html

Contact: Eli Tziperman


Faculty Supervisor: Scot Martin
School: SEAS
Dept./Area: Environmental Chemistry
Project Topic: Data Analysis of Human Activities on the Air quality and Climate of Amazonia

This project focuses on the effects of human activities on the air quality and climate of Amazonia. Data sets are available from aircraft measurements taken in 2014 and 2015. This research position requires strong computer skills, as well as an interest or prior experience with data mining or visualization. This study is a collaborative effort of School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and Center for Geographic Analysis.

Contact: Scot Martin


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: Joseph Allen
School: T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Dept./Area: Environmental Health

Project Topic: 'Green' Buildings and Health

The advent of sustainable design or “green building” strategies has reinvigorated questions over whether environmentally friendly buildings can also be healthy buildings. Join our Healthy Buildings research team (www.ForHealth.org) at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health as we investigate the connection between the built environment and health. We have three project areas related to our environment and impacts on human health, productivity and wellness: Green Buildings and Health; Student Health in Dorms; and the Harvard Healthy Building Material Academy. Activities for the student researcher include:

  • Conduct field studies collecting environmental measurements in buildings
  • Analyze environmental sensor data
  • Conduct literature reviews on the connection between the built environment and health
  • Write a scientific abstract for a conference or grant submission
  • Work with researchers on developing field sampling protocols
  • Develop web content, logos, and interactive project posters

Specific tasks will depend on the interests and skills of the student. We are interested in transdisciplinary research and welcome candidates from any academic background (e.g., computer science; graphic, web and video design; business; history; education). No specific academic or work prerequisites required.  We are looking for: positive attitude; independent; creative; fun; tinkerer; interest in the environment, health and sustainability.

Contact: Joseph Allen


Faculty Supervisor: Michael Aziz
School: SEAS
Dept./Area: Material and Energy Technologies
Project Topic: Performance of Redox Flow Batteries (RFBs)

Redox flow batteries (RFBs) have the potential to offer cost-effective electricity storage as a solution to the intermittency of solar and wind. The Aziz group has been investigating organic molecules as the RFB active species, motivated by their abundance and low cost, and has demonstrated high performance RFBs based on quinone molecules in both alkaline and acidic electrolytes. A critical requirement for flow battery commercialization is the stability of these organic molecules. In this research project with the Aziz lab, we propose to investigate the dependence of reactant stability on concentration, temperature, pH, and the presence of other electrolyte species. The student will examine the time dependence of reactant concentration and possible decomposition products by analytical techniques such as NMR, UV-Vis spectroscopy and mass spectroscopy. A college-level course in organic chemistry is a recommended prerequisite for this position.

Contact: Michael Aziz

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Faculty Supervisor: Alán Aspuru-Guzik
School: FAS
Dept./Area: Chemistry and Chemical Biology 
Project Topic: Force field development for molecular mechanics

Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations are often used to analyze the chemistry of aerosol droplets in the atmosphere, which is important for modeling cloud reflectivity and projecting climate change. However, the force fields used in these simulations are relatively inaccurate as they do not accurately account for quantum corrections. We are developing a force-field functor that takes a classical force field  and modifies it to include quantum corrections. We will use the Wigner-Kirkwood expansion of the quantum partition function to implement this functor and use it to modify existing functors of simple liquids like neon and water. We will then run MD simulations to verify that our approach more accurately predicts basic properties like the radial distribution function. Our goal is to create a functor that can be applied to any force field, such as those for aerosols, and make the associated MD simulations more accurate.

Contact:  Alán Aspuru-Guzik


Faculty Supervisor: Noel Holbrook
School: FAS
Department/Area: Organismic & Evolutionary Biology
Project Topic: Impact of human activities on the health and productivity of New England forest trees.

We have two projects that examine the impact of human-caused “global change” on tree physiology. The first focuses on the possible mechanisms connecting leaching of soil calcium due to acid precipitation with increased vulnerability to cavitation. Biophysical studies of pit membranes show that calcium removal leads to a dramatic reduction in the ability of these structures to contain embolism. Thus, we hypothesize that the significant decline in sugar maple trees in New England involves an increase in vulnerability to cavitation. Summer research will include hydraulic studies of cavitation resistance using enzymes and Ca- chelators, as well as biophysical characterization of pit membrane mechanical properties using atomic force microscopy. We will use material collected from the Hubbard Brook experimental forest in which long-term manipulation of soil calcium provides access to sugar maple trees with differing exposure to calcium depletion.  The second project focuses on how drought may impact the ability of tall red oak trees to transport carbohydrates to their roots. For these project, we are looking for someone who enjoys both lab and field work and who is not inordinately afraid of heights as some measurements may be done using a canopy lift to access the leaves of tall trees.  A background in math/physics and/or biology is a plus, but is not required.

Contact: Noel Holbrook


Faculty Supervisor: William (Ned) Friedman
School: FAS
Dept./Area: Organismal and Evolutionary Biology
Project Topic: Linking Plant Phenology and Climate Change through Development

Most phenological events that are studied in association with climate change are limited to relatively brief windows in the life of a plant.  Bud break, peak flowering, bud dormancy, and leaf drop are some of the more commonly documented aspects of a plant’s phenology.  A knowledge of the morphology of plants suggests that in order to fully understand how diverse plant species will respond to climate change, a far more developmental perspective must be integrated into the collection of data.  In most temperate woody flowering plants, leaves and flowers are formed (organogenesis) and undergo limited development (morphogenesis and histogenesis) within a bud at least one or more growing seasons before they will emerge from a bud and become functional.  Thus, summer and fall climate may have a profound effect on timing of events such as leafing out and flowering in the subsequent spring.  This study will use the extraordinary living collections of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University to examine timing and patterns of development of leaves and flowers across their full two-year developmental trajectory, in a selection of key species growing within this common garden.  Research will be based at the Weld Hill Research Facility at the Arnold Arboretum.

Contact: William (Ned) Friedman


Faculty Supervisor: Elsie Sunderland
School: T.H. Chan School of Public Health & SEAS
Dept./Area: Biogeochemistry of Global Contaminants
Project Topic: Methylmercury production from soil flooding associated with hydroelectric power development (Labrador, Canada)

New hydroelectric developments and reservoir creation are being proposed in many ecosystems, but little data exists on whether toxic methylmercury flux will vary with soil carbon content and composition. This information is essential to assess the environmental and human risks associated with reservoir creation. We are addressing this knowledge gap for a hydroelectric power development under construction near Muskrat Falls on the Churchill River (Labrador, Canada). An undergraduate research assistant is needed to assist with soil core collection and soil flux core experiments over a period of several weeks in Laborador. The research assistant will also provide lab support for methylmercury analyses and soil characterization analyses in our Cambridge labs during the summer of 2017.

Contact: Elsie Sunderland


Faculty Supervisor: Dustin Tingley
School: FAS
Dept./Area: Government
Project Topic: Machine Learning for the Environment

Social scientists routinely encounter settings where they must deal with a proliferation of variables that need to be accounted for in a predictive or explanatory model. As such, statistical methods for these settings are becoming more developed and accessible. My group is developing machine learning methods and applying them to causal inference problems. 

This project will aim to deploy these tools for studying questions related to the environment. A first step will be to catalog where in various environment related fields (e.g., climate science, environment related public health) machine learning tools. To date, this has been surprisingly rare, unlike in other fields including the social sciences. The next step will be to see if alternative machine learning tools my team has helped develop provide greater predictive ability. Finally, we will aim to draft an article for environment related fields introducing them to these tools and distilling some of the advantages/disadvantages for their fields of interest.

Skills Needed: Statistics, computer science, programming. Interest in environmental topics.

Contact: Dustin Tingley


Faculty Supervisor: Rohini Pande
School: HKS
Dept./Area: Public Policy
Project Topic: Air pollution in Delhi

Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD), a research program at Harvard Kennedy School, is collaborating with the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago (EPIC) to study the impact of air pollution on health outcomes in Delhi. Using low-cost, portable sensors, we have generated heat maps that identify pollution hotspots and spatiotemporal patterns of pollution within Delhi. The intern will help to collect pollution data from several locations around Delhi using the low-cost, portable sensors. S/he will also help in identifying relevant sources of local health data, and coordinate with different parties to collect that data. Location: New Delhi, India.

Contact: Eshita Gupta


Faculty Supervisor: Rohini Pande
School: HKS
Dept./Area: Public Policy
Project Topic: Environmental clearances in India 

Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD), a research program at Harvard Kennedy School, is working with the Indian Ministry of Mines to evaluate its recent launch of a Star Rating program for sustainable mining. Alongside, we are analyzing secondary data to explore whether historical environmental compliance records can be used to predict future compliance. One of the most politically volatile environmental issues in India right now is the environmental clearance system, which is under fire both from the right as being too slow and therefore hindering economic growth, and from the left as being too lenient and allowing highly polluting firms to receive permits with few, if any, conditions. This project could lead to a tiered clearance system that gives preference to firms with strong environmental track records. We are looking for someone to contribute primarily to data analysis and our literature review. However, the intern will also have the ability to join in and learn about policy outreach. Location: New Delhi, India.

Contact: Anca Balietti

 

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