Current Research Opportunities

2021 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. Research assistantship opportunities will be posted as we receive them from faculty. This program is open to Harvard undergraduate students only. 

The deadline for all applications is Monday, April 19th at 5:00PM ET.

Project Topic: Climate Dynamics

Faculty Supervisor: Eli Tziperman
Dept./Area: Earth and Planetary Sciences

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 is on our webpage.

Contact: Eli Tziperman


Project Topic: History of the Health Effects of Air Pollution

Faculty Supervisor: David Jones
School: FAS, HMS
Dept./Area: History of Science, Global Health and Social Medicine

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


Project Topic: Environmental Economics and Policy

Faculty Supervisor: Robert Stavins
School: HKS
Dept./Area: Energy and Economic Development

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


Project Topic: Wild African Elephant Behavior and Conservation

Faculty Supervisor: Caitlin O’Connell
School: HMS
Dept./Area: Conservation Biology

In a time when elephant conservationists are looking to animal behavior studies to inform their policy decisions with regard to mitigating conflict along the elephant/human interface, we are seeking an undergraduate student to work with us remotely during the summer months of 2021 to help organize and analyze wild African male elephant behavior, camera trap, and possibly acoustic data that was collected over a 5-year period in Namibia. With guidance from a master’s student and postgrad intern, the undergraduate student will help develop a framework for behavioral (and possible hormonal) predictors and determinants of landscape use with the potential of certain character traits being prone to leaving protected areas, making them more vulnerable to conflict and potential injury. The student will work with two post-graduates on weekly analysis tasks (knowledge of R will be competitive; knowledge of lightroom a plus, Excel and PowerPoint essential) and will present or contribute to presentation results within a weekly lab meeting on Fridays run by Dr. Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell. The results of the summer research will contribute to a remote presentation slated to be given within the symposium on conservation behavior prioritization at the International Congress for Conservation Biology in December 2021.

Contact: Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell


Project Topic: Case Studies about the Future in Historical Perspective

Faculty Supervisor: Bruno Carvalho
School: FAS
Dept./Area: Urban Planning and Design

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


Project Title: Amazonian Deforestation and Archaeological Landscapes

Faculty Supervisor: Jason Ur

School: FAS

Dept./Area: Anthropology (Archaeology)

Project Description: Deforestation in the State of Acre, Brazil has revealed an extensive archaeological landscape of settlements and trackways. For much of past century, this region was entirely forested, and historians and archaeologists have assumed that it had a low human population in the past. We now know that settlement was abundant, and that it was accompanied by a distinctive anthropogenic soil (terra preta) that may have had vegetation impacts. This project aims to reconstruct the extent of pre-Columbian settlement in this part of the Brazilian Amazon. Using the locations of recently-revealed settlements, the student researcher will use historical Landsat multispectral satellite images from prior to deforestation to develop a vegetation “signature” for sites beneath the canopy. The student will then examine still-forested areas with this signature to propose potential sites and, more broadly, to hypothesize the extent and density of pre-Columbian settlement hidden beneath the canopy. The successful student candidate will have some experience with GIS and remote sensing and/or some background in archaeology.

Contact: Jason Ur


Project Topic: Aging and Climate Change in China
Faculty Supervisor: Ann Forsyth
Postdoctoral Supervisor: Yingying Lyu

School: GSD

Dept./Area: Urban Planning

The Chinese population is aging. This project looks at how vulnerable older Chinese people are to climate related hazards (flooding, heat, extreme weather). This will involve examining reports and data sources from China as well as more general information on climate hazards. The applicant should be able to read Chinese.

Contact: Ann Forsyth


Project Topic: Climate Change and the Environment: Social, Political, and Economic Levers for a Just Transition
Faculty Supervisor: Dustin Tingley

School: FAS

Dept./Area: Government

We are researching how countries and states are phasing out fossil fuel production and usage while avoiding massive community and employment displacements. This includes understanding how communities and governments are dealing with environmental quality and remediation, the development of new industries, and the use of investments in areas that will face transition costs. Research work will include collecting data on policies, policy proposals, designing and analyzing surveys, and other activities. Requirements: some training in statistical analysis, some familiarity with either STATA or R. The selected student will participate in a summer workshop organized by Professor Tingley called "Climate Change and the Environment: Social, Political, and Economic Levers for a Just Transition." Please only reach out to Professor Tingley with questions about the project. All questions about the program and any application materials should be sent to Jillian Murphy.

Contact: Dustin Tingley


Project Topic: Case Studies on Climate Adaptation

Faculty Supervisor: Susan Crawford 
School: HLS
Dept./Area: Law

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


Project Topic: Taking the Fingerprints of Sea Level Change

Faculty Supervisor: Jerry Mitrovica
School: FAS, SEAS
Dept./Area: EPS

The research in our group is focused on global and regional scale sea level changes both in the geological past and in the modern, progressively warming world. We have an opening for a summer student to work on one of a variety of projects that fall within the scope of HUCE, including studies of: (1) the impact of paleo sea level and ocean current changes on early human migration and dispersal; (2) the origin and cause of abrupt ice sheet collapse and meltwater pulses during the last deglaciation phase of the ice age; and (3) patterns of sea level change measured by satellites and land-based tide gauges during the 21st century. For more information, please contact Prof. Jerry Mitrovica.

Contact: Jerry Mitrovica


Project Topic: Legal, Social, and Political Correlates of Water Conservation in Mexico: Environmental Negotiation as a Tool for Mitigating Climate-change Induced Drought

Faculty Supervisor: Diane E. Davis 

School: GSD

Dept./Area: Urban Planning and Design

We seek a student willing to undertake primary and secondary research on the use of environmental and water negotiation strategies to address the problems of climate-change induced water scarcities in drought-sensitive ecologies. This research is part of larger project funded by the UK, focused on regional governance, sustainable land/water management, and green finance and climate policy support in Hidalgo, Mexico. The project has both research and action-based aims, with the latter focused on the need to find new mechanisms for balancing the competing water priorities of multiple stakeholders spanning industry, government, and agricultural water users in a context where communal land holding structures are in place. The RA will help develop a base of historical and contemporary case examples from experiences in Mexico and elsewhere, with the aim of generating a well-documented and robust understanding of existing social, political, and legal precedents and practices. With respect to the latter, an ideal student would also be prepared to conduct research on how legal frameworks governing water usage affect negotiation strategies and the potential for experimental, regulatory innovations that provide for new water sharing arrangements. Other key themes explored in the larger project include urban-rural linkages, circular green economy processes, alternative land tenure systems, desertification, deforestation, and climate change. The researcher will be collaborating with faculty and graduate students from the Graduate School of Design and may have an opportunity to engage with the larger international project team composed of experts in law, design, planning, and sustainability at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and from Sciences Po in Paris. Reading proficiency in Spanish would be an asset for this role.

Contact: Diane E. Davis


Project Topic: Investigations of Air Quality

Faculty Supervisor: Loretta J. Mickley

School: SEAS

Dept./Area: Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling

We offer two potential projects, both focused on air quality issues.  In the first project, the student will attempt to solve the mathematical puzzle of how best to choose sites for air quality measurements across the United States. In the second project, the student will analyze observations to better understand fire activity and smoke exposure in Brazil.  The successful candidate will choose one of the two projects to work on.

Project 1: Environmental monitoring of air pollution in the United States relies heavily on EPA air quality sampling sites. These sites are located in urban and rural areas across the country and are used to assess air pollution impacts for public health and to validate satellite data and results from air quality models. However, the sensor measurements are sparse in both space and time due to the cost of maintaining sites, and optimizing sensor placement is a central mathematical challenge. By taking advantage of the underlying patterns found in the measurement data, we can identify the optimal minimal placement of sensors for maximum impact. This work will help inform placement of future US air quality sensors.

Project 2: The Amazon Basin lost 15% of its forest from 1976 to 2010, and much of that loss was caused by biomass burning. Tropical forests in their natural state rarely burn, but reconstruction of fire history in the Amazon Basin shows that fires increased rapidly during the 1990s due to deforestation and degradation. Recent research suggests that fire activity in this region could have large implications for public health and climate, but much uncertainty in these effects exists. Through analysis of pollution measurements on the ground and in space, this project will help fill in the gaps of our knowledge of the impact of Amazon fires on air quality.

Contact: Loretta J. Mickley


Project Topic: Modeling of Atmospheric Chemistry

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

The Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling Group welcomes applications from Harvard undergraduates interested in computational/statistical research related to greenhouse gases 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


Project Topic: Low-carbon Standards and Green Technology Policy

Faculty Supervisor:  James Stock
School: HKS
Dept./Area: Economics

New green technologies will be key to a successful and cost-effective transition to a low-carbon economy. One motivation for low-carbon standards (standards that specify the carbon or renewable content of a particular type or use of energy) is that they drive technological change by providing a market for nascent green technologies. But some standards have been much more successful at this than others, and the broad question of this research is why? This specific project will focus on innovation in low-carbon biofuels in response to the Renewable Fuel Standard and the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The work will involve a combination of data collection, interviews of industry participants, and potentially some statistical modeling. Organic chemistry and/or econometrics at the level of Econ 1123 are a plus but neither is necessary. If time permits, the project will address also take up alternative, non-standards policies for developing low-carbon aviation fuels.

Contact: James Stock


Project Topic: Designs for Environmentally Responsible Health Care Facilities

Faculty Supervisor: Ann-Christine Duhaime

School:  HMS

Dept./Area: MGH/Healthcare

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 range 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 may be undertaken on site (if allowed by health regulations at that time) or 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 follow:

  • 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, outreach, and communications.
  • 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 worldwide shortages 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.
  • A longstanding research 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, outdoor and indoor green space, noise reduction, and other elements specifically relevant to pediatric practice.
  • We also are interested in collecting data on hospital operations changes already completed or ongoing in order to write manuscripts for submission for publication about health sector initiatives in sustainability.

Contact: Ann-Christine Duhaime

Project topic: Energy Infrastructure Siting

Faculty Supervisor:  Henry Lee
School: HKS
Dept./Area: ENRP

The Biden Administration is backing accelerated offshore wind development, but you only need to look to Massachusetts and New York to witness the difficulty in siting new energy projects—both the wind turbines and electricity transmission lines. In order for the United States to meet its ambitious goal of carbon-free electricity generation by 2035, a drastic increase in transmission lines and land for solar and wind farms is required. Our present siting process is very expensive and takes years to obtain all the required permits. Further it has evolved from a tool to accelerate projects with an environmental benefit to a tool to prevent projects that harm the environment. The Research Assistant will document the siting challenges facing developers of renewable energy projects and develop a menu of changes to the siting process that have been pursued in the United States. The end product will be a report laying out the parameters of the problem and making recommendations that could be pursued at both the state and federal level.

Contact: Amanda Sardonis


Project Topic: Clean Energy Technology Policy

Faculty Supervisor:  Henry Lee
School: HKS
Dept./Area: ENRP

The United States and China, the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, will need to overcome the challenges to rapid deployment of clean energy technologies is both countries are to achieve emission-reduction targets consistent with the Paris Agreement. Research Assistants will support ongoing work on identifying and characterizing policies that could be implemented in the United States that would accelerate the development and scaling of emerging clean energy technologies including CCUS, electric storage, energy efficiency, renewables, green hydrogen, etc.

Contact: Amanda Sardonis


Project Topic: Renewable Hydrogen

Faculty Supervisor:  Henry Lee
School: HKS
Dept./Area: ENRP

The Research Assistants will support our ongoing hydrogen research exploring the implications of renewable hydrogen adoption at scale on the roles nations might play in a future global hydrogen markets, together with its impact on overall energy systems, value chains, and sectors. We have specifically focused on China and the EU thus far; we now want to use the same analytical framework to assess the potential of renewable hydrogen in India and Japan, together with implications for “hard to abate sectors.” Research products will target the G20 meeting this fall.

Contact: Amanda Sardonis


Project Topic: The Impossible Garden: Arid Landscape Morphologies and the Islamic Agronomic Tradition

Faculty Supervisor: Pablo Pérez-Ramos

School: Graduate School of Design

Dept./Area: Landscape Architecture

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. Applicants should be able to read Arabic.

Contact: Pablo Pérez-Ramos