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Harvard Summer Program - Biology and the Evolution of Paris as a Smart City, 4 June – 30 July, 2016 Paris, France

Publish Date: Sep 30, 2015

Deadline: Jan 28, 2016

Event Dates: from Jun 04, 2016 12:00 to Jul 30, 2016 12:00

In an increasingly inter-connected and technological world, we must develop models for urban living that take full advantage of technology while increasing the participation of residents in developing new opportunities for a better life. The notion of the Smart City is a recent response to this challenge. It is based on an urban development model that enhances not just the physical infrastructure of a city, but also the intellectual and social capital of its residents. The participatory elements of this model seek to foster the collective intelligence of the population in a manner that is broadly inclusive and oriented towards innovative problem solving.

The idea of collective contributions to an improved living environment shares many features with the evolution of populations, be they bacteria in a colony, cells in a tissue or animals in an ecosystem. This project-based program uses the principles of evolution at the molecular, cellular and population level to innovate new models for engaging the citizens of Paris in meeting the urban challenges of their city.

The coursework lays a foundation based on the history of Paris as an intellectual, socially innovative and economic powerhouse, combined with an exploration of the Smart City model as it applies to such issues as transportation, information technology, and urban planning. At each step along the way, you also learn the fundamental principles of evolution, adaptation and ways to deconstrain evolutionary change while using them to transform the principles of Smart City design. Together with French university students, you work in interdisciplinary teams to develop and express these ideas in actionable project designs.

Course of study

BIOS S-190 Study Abroad in Paris, France: Biology, Innovation, and the Twenty-First Century Smart City (33309)

Robert A. Lue

Alain Viel

(8 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

The course is an interdisciplinary exploration of how biological principles derived from how organisms thrive and evolve can be applied to the ever-growing challenges facing large cities in the twenty-first century. The city of Paris with its remarkable history and diversity (cultural, ethnic, and economic) provides an especially rich context for students to learn about and tackle these challenges. Students explore how living systems work at the cellular level and how natural selection and adaptation drives evolution at the level of individuals and populations, while exploring parallels with historical models of urban planning and new conceptions of the Smart City. Student teams use this theoretical foundation to develop specific project designs to improve the quality of life in Paris through effective engagement of its citizens.

The course content and subsequent project designs depend on deep immersion in the geography and culture of Paris. Student teams are composed of both Harvard Summer School and French university students. Through collaborations with the Centre de Recherches Interdisciplinaires and the Mayor’s office of the city of Paris, students explore multiple geographic, ethnic, and cultural areas of the city, and work with those local communities to understand their needs and develop responsive project designs. Thus, sustained community engagement and feedback are an essential component of the course.

Projects are as wildly creative and diverse as the imaginations of the student teams, running the gamut from new software that uses crowd-sourced information as the basis for urban design to novel ways to generate electricity in the city center to new community programs that leverage the creativity of school children. Each project also uses media such as video and animation to communicate the fundamental concepts of the design as well as its implementation. The project designs are open source and shared with the world through an online media blog thebiopolis.com. To this end, interactive classroom sessions are complemented by weekly feedback sessions and group work on video and other digital media needed to visualize the project designs.

The interdisciplinary and team-based nature of the coursework means that the program welcomes students from the natural sciences, humanities, social sciences, engineering, and computer science.

Course credit

See Study Abroad Credit Information.


Robert A. Lue, PhD, Professor of the Practice of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University
Alain Viel, PhD, Senior Lecturer on Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University


Before applying, review the Admission and Policies and FAQs pages.

You must be at least 18 years old and have completed at least one year of college or be a first-year student in good academic standing to apply.

The application materials, outlined below, are due January 28, 2016:

  • A completed online application (available in early December) that includes:
    • A $50 nonrefundable application fee
    • A statement of interest in the program and in the course, including information on relevant coursework and travel experience abroad (previous travel is not a prerequisite). In particular, your statement should address your interest in Paris, biology, and its application to urban development.
    • Transcripts (student record accepted for Harvard students)

You will be notified of admission decisions by mid-February.


There is a nonrefundable $50 application fee. The program cost includes the following:

  • Tuition
  • Room and some meals
  • Field trips

In addition to the program fee, you are responsible for:

  • A health insurance fee (waived if you have US insurance that provides coverage outside the United States)
  • Transportation to and from Paris
  • Independent excursions
  • The cost of passports and visas (if the latter is needed)
  • Any immunizations

How to pay and funding options

See Payment and Funding for payment deadlines, deposit amounts, and more information, including funding options for Harvard College students.


You are housed at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, a vibrant and international student community located next to the beautiful Parc Montsouris in Paris.

Additional information

Contact Robert Lue, lue@harvard.edu.

Students with disabilities

Contact the disability services coordinator as soon as possible. See Students with Disabilities for more information.

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