Harvard Pumps $1 Million into Climate Change Research

Drones for the Amazon and a "bionic leaf" are on the list of funded projects.
harvard university flag

Photo by Olga Khvan

A Harvard fund for climate change research just announced the seven projects that will receive pieces of a $1 million grant, part of its quest to help the world understand and prepare for the phenomenon.

The list of efforts to be funded include a “bionic leaf,” which turns energy from the sun into hydrogen fuel, a plan to send drones to the Amazon to study emissions, and funding to support “fact-based fiction” that takes place in a future impacted by climate change—impacts that will certainly be felt in coastal cities like Boston.

“Universities have a uniquely important role to play in the battle against climate change, and Harvard must continue to be at the forefront of efforts to bring disciplines together, deepen awareness of the issue, and speed progress,” says Harvard President Drew Faust, who founded a Climate Change Solutions Fund three years ago. “This year’s Climate Change Solutions Fund awards will help experts from engineering, medicine, chemistry, public health, public policy, and the arts confront the challenges facing our society and our planet at a moment when the dire consequences of inaction are becoming increasingly apparent.”

The fund has doled out $3 million to 24 projects since its inception.

Harvard didn’t dive into this issue today in its promotion of the grants, but the funding comes as researchers, particular on this subject, have recently been motivated by the new administration to advocate for the necessity of their work publicly. Harvard analysts have articulated concerns about cuts to federal funding for climate change research, the delegitimizing and burying of climate research, and the White House’s moves to build a leadership team that is hostile to the scientific consensus on global warming. Boston is slated to host a March for Science here, in solidarity with demonstrators around the country, on April 22.

Curious to see if a “bionic leaf” might someday help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels? Somebody has to pay for that, and people in power have to take it seriously.

Here are those whose projects were picked for funding, as described today in Harvard magazine:

  • Professor of environmental science and engineering Daniel Schrag, and Henry Lee, Director of Enviornmental and Natural Resource Program within the Belfer Center, who explore development of an energy system devoid of carbon in China, in partnership with Chinese scholars, to understand the primary challenges to decarbonization.
  • Professor of the history of science Naomi Oreskes and postdoctoral fellow Geoffrey Supran, who seek to advance the conversation about climate change through a post-doctoral fellowship for fact-based fiction writing with a scientific underpinning that imagines life in a carbon-free future.
  • Pratt professor of business and government Robert Stavins, of the Kennedy school of government and Robert Stowe, Executive Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, who will evaluate various emissions-reducing policies in line with theParis Agreement in order to inform the 23rd United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties that will be taking place this November.
  • McKay professor of environmental chemistry Scot Martin, who will deploy drones to identify the types and amounts of volatile organic compounds emitted by the Amazon rainforest, where Harvard has had an active research program.
  • A project that examines solutions to hazardous environmental practices within the pharmaceutical and biomass industries.
  • Research that transforms Harvard into a living laboratory by using a campus dining hall to study the impacts of dietary choices on the environment.
  • Construction of a bionic leaf that aims to reduce carbon emissions and make the use of solar energy more widespread in such a way that it can be deployed at scale.


Spencer Buell Staff Writer at Boston Magazine sbuell@bostonmagazine.com


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