Harvard Summer Program in Paris, France

Program dates and costs to be announced.

Explore the notion of the "Smart City" in Paris, one of the world's premier intellectual and economic powerhouses.

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.

Program Structure

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.

Read more about the program and past student experiences in the Harvard Gazette. 


BIOS S-190 counts as one full-year course (8 credits) of degree credit. 

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.

Where You Live and Study

The city of Paris, with its remarkable history and diversity, provides an especially rich context for students to learn about urban planning and the Smart City. Paris will become your classroom to explore contemporary challenges, examine and design possible solutions.


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.

How to Apply

Before applying, review How to Apply.

To apply to the 2017 Study Abroad Program in Paris, complete the application available through online services in early December.

All application materials are due January 26, 2017. You will be notified of admission decisions by mid- to late-February.

Online application components

  1. 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.
  2. Transcripts
    • Harvard College applicants: You may submit an unofficial transcript accessed from my.harvard.edu
    • Non-Harvard applicants: Submit an official transcript from your university
  3. A $50 nonrefundable application fee

Note: Interviews may be requested.


The program fee includes tuition, accommodation, and some meals.  

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

  • International airfare
  • Transportation to and from Paris
  • Passports and visas (if the latter is needed)
  • Immunizations and health insurance fees
  • Some meals
  • Personal expenditures, including laundry, cell phone charges, and personal excursions
See Funding and Payment for information on how to submit payments and funding options. 

Additional Information

Program director

Robert A. Lue


  • 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

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