Harvard Summer Program in Paris, France

In light of the significant and prolonged uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard Summer School is suspending the operation of our 2021 summer study abroad programs. For further travel resources, please visit the Harvard Global Support Services website and Harvard’s coronavirus website which is frequently updated and contains the latest announcements, guidance and resources. Students interested in related coursework for summer 2021 are encouraged to consider enrolling in a course at Harvard Summer School. Updated Summer course catalog information will be available at the end January 2021.


Explore and use the principles of sustainable development in Paris, a city known as a cultural and economic powerhouse.

This project-based program combines fundamental principles from the life sciences with the social sciences and humanities to innovate new models for engaging citizens in addressing the sustainable development challenges of Paris. You study a combination of biology, urban studies, and public policy and work within an interdisciplinary team to explore and develop new models of sustainable living in the city.

Visit the program's website

Program Structure

In an increasingly interconnected and technological world, we must develop models for sustainable development that take full advantage of technology while increasing the participation of residents in developing new opportunities for a better life. The seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs) defined by the United Nations is an important framework for responding to these challenges.

In this program, you use the SDG framework to create new urban development models that enhance not just the physical infrastructure of a city, but also the intellectual and social capital of its residents. The participatory elements of these models 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. 

The coursework lays a foundation based on the history of Paris as an intellectual, socially innovative, and economic powerhouse, combined with an exploration of sustainable development as it applies to such issues as health, information technology, education, and urban planning. At each step along the way, you also explore fundamental principles in biology, while using them to generate new concepts in sustainable development. Together with French university students, you work in interdisciplinary teams to develop and express these ideas in actionable project designs.


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

BIOS S-190 Study Abroad in Paris, France: The Biopolis—Biology and Social Innovation (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 sustainable development. Student teams use these theoretical foundations 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, the SciencesPo School of Public Affairs, and the Paris Mayor's office, 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 site: thebiopolis.com. Projects have gone on to win awards at international competitions in Geneva and Shenzhen, and have continued through other programs such as the SciencesPo Policy Lab and the Harvard Business School iLab.

Interactive classroom sessions are complemented by weekly feedback sessions and group work on video and other digital media needed to express 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. The course is taught in English and French is not required.

Prerequisites: None

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 sustainable development. Paris will become your laboratory to explore contemporary challenges and examine and design possible solutions. Classroom and teamwork spaces are located in the lively Marais and Saint Germain des Prés areas of central Paris.


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.


Each program has unique requirements included in the online application. Beginning your application early is the best way to ensure that you have sufficient time to review and complete the application requirements by the deadline. 

You may apply to no more than two programs; if applying to two programs, you will be asked to rank your two applications in order of preference (first and second choice). Any applications submitted in excess of the maximum of two will be automatically withdrawn. You will be notified of your admissions status in each program by late February. 

A complete online application includes:

  • Basic personal information
  • A statement of interest
  • Your most recent transcript
  • Program-specific requirements (if applicable; may include letters of recommendation, audio or video submissions, etc.)

Interviews may be requested at the discretion of the program.

Harvard College students applying for funding from the Office of Career Services (OCS): Please note that the OCS funding application is separate. OCS funding awards are tied to a specific program, and cannot be transferred to another program.

If you have questions about the application, please contact the Harvard Summer School Study Abroad Office by email at summerabroad@summer.harvard.edu, or by telephone at (617) 998-9602.

Cost & Expenses

The program fee includes:

  • Tuition
  • Accommodations
  • Scheduled program activities
  • Some meals (the program will provide further details)

You will also need to budget for a number of expenses not covered by the program fee. The amounts listed below for these out-of-pocket expenses are approximate, and you may incur additional expenses not noted here. Your actual expenses will depend on a number of factors, including personal spending habits and currency exchange rates. Note that for 2021, expense categories--especially airfare--may be subject to significant fluctuations.

  • International airfare ($1,300 - $1,600)
  • Ground transportation ($200)
  • Meals ($1,500)
  • Personal expenditures, communications, course materials, and miscellaneous ($400)

If you have specific questions about personal budgeting, please contact the program directly.

See Funding and Payment for information on how to submit payments and funding options.

Additional Information