Spotlight: HCP Undergraduate Research Assistant Candice Chen

February 28, 2022
Candice Chen

Candice Chen '22

Candice, where did you grow up, and how old were you when you first discovered a love for climate change/environmental research?

I mostly grew up in Nashville, TN. Going into college, I had very little sense of what I wanted to study or pursue professionally. I spent the summer after my freshman year in Santiago, Chile where I studied public health and learned about how intense winter smog there causes many local residents to experience high rates of respiratory illnesses. This experience drove me to take classes about atmospheric chemistry and grew my curiosity for how humans and the environment affect each other. I found my love for climate and environmental science sophomore year (when I was 20) through EPS classes because I loved exploring questions fundamental to Earth’s habitability and human wellbeing under anthropogenic climate change. I’ve enjoyed studying the Earth system because of its rich complexity and relevance to all people.

What draws you to your current research – what makes you passionate about it? And why did you decide to partner with the Harvard-China Project?

During the summer of 2020, I worked on a bottom-up gridded methane emissions inventory for the continental U.S. This experience taught me the importance of methane research. Methane is interesting because it is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 yet has a relatively short atmospheric lifetime. Better understanding current methane emissions is critical to curbing future emissions, and this in turn could have a marked climate impact over a short time period. Wanting to do more research in this area, I was eager to join the Harvard-China Project to work on methane station data around Beijing.

Can you give our community a brief overview of your research project that you are pursuing while based at the Harvard-China Project? Who are your mentors involved in the project?

The Beijing region has been undergoing a rural coal-to-gas transition since late 2017. Shifting to natural gas from coal has clear air quality benefits, but the effect on greenhouse gas emissions is less clear and depends largely on gas leak rates. The integrity of the new gas infrastructure is not known, and current CH4 estimates are highly uncertain. Our project uses measurements of CH4, CO2, and primary air pollutants made at sites upwind and downwind of Beijing along with meteorological data to attribute CH4 emissions to specific sources. This work will inform estimates of CH4 leakage, informing cost-benefit analyses on the coal-to-gas conversion and mitigation strategies. I’ve been doing this work in collaboration with Shaojie Song and Bill Munger.

What are your career goals - what will you pursue upon graduation?

I want to continue research and pursue a PhD in Earth Science, though not immediately after graduation. Before graduate school, I’d like to teach abroad for a year or two.

How has the Harvard-China Project thus far aided your research?

HCP has given me the opportunity to do research more autonomously than I ever had before, and I’m thankful to be involved with such important work.