Campus & Community

Harvard Global Institute grants expand scope

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Eight projects to address climate change, urbanization, and human consciousness

In its third year of awarding grants, the Harvard Global Institute (HGI) will fund eight projects that engage faculty across six Harvard Schools and extend its geographic scope and research capacity.

The Harvard Global Institute was established by President Drew Faust in 2015 to promote University-wide, interdisciplinary scholarship on pressing global challenges. With support from the Dalian Wanda Group and its chairman, Wang Jianlin, HGI is funding ambitious projects that bring together Harvard faculty and Chinese collaborators to research matters related to air quality, climate change, biodiversity, health, and urbanization.

While three projects will focus on topics that are particularly relevant to China, five will address issues that are salient to India. Funding for the India research grants is provided by the President’s Global Initiatives Support Fund, established by alumni and friends on the Global Advisory Council.

Both small and large categories of grants are awarded, at a maximum of $100,000 and $1 million per year, respectively.

This year’s grant recipients:

Eugene Wang, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art, proposes an investigation of the sources of human consciousness, meditation and mindfulness, and the relationship between art and technology by focusing on the experience of viewing the Buddhist caves of Dunhuang, China. Wang intends to “elucidate the mural and sculptural program of embellished Buddhist caves” by creating an educational film that demonstrates how the Buddhist mind works in caves.

Peter Bol, Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and James Hankins, professor of history, propose a comparative study of the means used by various historical societies to improve the moral and intellectual quality of political elites via education, customs, culture, and institutions. They hope to use the insights of modern Confucian political philosophy to illuminate the issues involved, while also supplying theorists with the fruits of historical research, particularly which means for improving moral and intellectual leadership have proven most successful in past societies.

In a project titled “A New Strategy for the U.S. and China: Joint Research on Air Pollution and Climate Using Innovative Airborne Instrumentation,” Professors James Anderson and Frank Keutsch propose developing a joint strategy for obtaining reliable observations of the key processes controlling concentrations of pollutants relevant to human health and climate. The work will lay the foundation for longer-term collaboration and launching future joint (airborne) field campaigns. Future advances in instrumentation will then contain contributions from both sides, as will defining and solving the key scientific questions within the context of air pollution and climate. Anderson is Philip S. Weld Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Keutsch is Stonington Professor of Engineering and Atmospheric Science and professor of chemistry and chemical biology.

Co-investigators Sunil Amrith, Mehra Family Professor of South Asian Studies, and David Jones, A. Bernard Ackerman Professor of the Culture of Medicine, will conduct historical research to understand the distinct but linked histories of air pollution and heart disease over the past decade in India. Their analyses of the shifting causes of air pollution, the ways in which it became a cause of public concern, governments’ responses to that problem, and the prospects for successful reform should provide valuable guidance for policy makers today — in India and other developing countries. The investigators will collaborate with the Public Health Foundation of India to make this connection between history and policy.

Jacqueline Bhabha, professor of the practice of health and human rights, and Aisha Yousafzai, associate professor of global health, will research interventions that pre-empt and eliminate harm to vulnerable children by evaluating prevention strategies used by three innovative nonprofits in India. There is a clear and pressing need for evidence that supports such interventions to protect children. The project aims to further our practical understanding of what “prevention” entails and how it can be operationalized at the local level, providing an evidence-based case for increased investment in such programs. It aims to develop a methodological approach to “prevention science” that will spark further global research in this field.

Daniel Nocera, Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy, and Rohini Pande, Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy, will bring Nocera’s clean-energy innovation — the “bionic leaf” — together with Pande’s policy research to inform the adoption of the clean energy generated by the bionic leaf in India. The collaboration will not only set the stage for the successful introduction and scaling of bionic leaf technology in India, but also create the framework to accelerate the adoption of greenhouse-gas-reducing innovations in the future.

In her project “Coal-based Energy Generation in India: Managing Local and Global Environmental and Human Health Impacts,” Elsie Sunderland and her collaborators in India will test the hypothesis that health impacts attributed to coal-fired power plants have been substantially underestimated because they do not include damages associated with toxic heavy metal exposures. Coal-fired power generation accounts for approximately 70 percent of India’s energy demands, and is presently increasing at a rate of 3.5 percent per year to meet the needs of a growing population. However, most Indian plants still lack even basic pollution control technology. The proposed research will combine field measurements, modeling, and exposure analysis in two Indian cities that have large residential communities next to coal-fired power plants. Sunderland is Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering.

Faust also awarded a grant to Emmerich Davies, assistant professor of education. His project, “Power to the Parents: Local Community Participation in Delhi Schools,” aims to test the impact of two separate interventions to encourage greater parental participation in school management committees. These interventions look to increase the diversity of parents who run for elected positions on school management committees, as well as encourage broad-based participation in these bodies, with the ultimate goal of improved educational outcomes.

HGI will accept expressions of interest for the next grant cycle in December. Once again, there will be a small amount of funding available for projects in India. HGI will also welcome projects with a China-India comparative component. More information on grants and the upcoming grant cycle can be found on the HGI website.

To read about 2015 and 2016 grant recipients’ projects, visit the HGI website.