Staff Scientist, Atmospheric and Environmental Research
Collaborator, Harvard-China Project
Archana Dayalu was a few years into her PhD work in atmospheric chemistry at Harvard when she made an abrupt pivot. Long interested in chemistry thanks to an inspiring high school teacher and always passionate about the environment, Archana had started to lose interest in the research project she was pursuing. “I realized it wasn't speaking to me—it just didn't feel right somehow,” she says. Besides, she was so deep into it, changing course seemed impossible. “But I switched projects—and it was a leap of faith really in myself.”
Her new research began with access to a new data set: Five years’ worth of carbon dioxide data from a site in Miyun, China—about 100 miles northeast of Beijing—jointly operated by Harvard-China Project and Tsinghua University. “Sure, it was just one site. But could I use that to evaluate a suite of different carbon dioxide emissions inventories for that region of China?” she wondered. “It felt from the beginning that it was a really interesting question—and it was also nice because I felt like it came from my own thought processes, so I felt a great sense of ownership.” The research that sprung from it, she says, made up the greater part of her PhD studies, and ultimately her thesis.
The work also connected Archana to the Harvard-China Project, who funded the final year of her PhD studies. She credits the China Project with providing unique access to resources—everything from raw satellite data to deep research networks in China and at Harvard—as well as encouragement. “Throughout the whole process, the China Project was extremely supportive and very interested in the work I had been doing, and made sure that I was presenting my results to different conferences,” she says. “It really allowed me the free reign to think about actually solving this problem.”
Hopefully, Archana says, solving that problem can lead to broader gains in environmental policy and a better understanding of human impact, while planting the seeds for other groups to run with the product. “It's not necessarily that I am thinking that right away I must make something that's a game-changing bit of research,” she says. “More realistically, can I do something that lays the groundwork for other groups to come in and do really interesting work?” It could be a foundation for establishing really meaningful environmental policy or scientific studies that will then further environmental policy questions, Archana says. “Ultimately inspiring, piece by piece, meaningful change in how humans inhabit the world in a more respectful way.”
(Written by Dan Morrell)