Environmental Science and Engineering

Professor Elsie Sunderland, Director of Undergraduate Studies

Dr. Patrick Ulrich, Acting Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies


Environmental Science and Engineering (ESE) is an interdisciplinary program with the goal of understanding, predicting, and responding to natural and human-induced environmental change. Addressing environmental issues such as global warming, stratospheric ozone depletion, or local and regional air and water pollution requires perspectives from a diverse set of scientific disciplines including atmospheric physics and chemistry, oceanography, glaciology, hydrology, geophysics, ecology, and biogeochemistry. This program is structured around the view that the environmental system is comprised of a complex set of chemical, physical, and biological interactions, made even more complicated by the various activities of human society. Through exploration of the underlying processes and feedbacks within the Earth system, and with a range of approaches from theory and modeling to experiments and observations, students are trained to think about environmental processes in an integrated fashion, preparing them to manage the environmental challenges we face. 

At its core, Environmental Science and Engineering exemplifies the pursuit of a technical liberal arts degree. In order to better understand and address environmental challenges, environmental scientists and engineers draw on core knowledge from other closely related fields to develop technical solutions and advance innovations in environmental measurements, modeling, and control. This cross-disciplinary nature is reflected in the fact that many of Harvard’s ESE faculty are jointly appointed or affiliated in other Schools or departments in FAS. The liberal arts nature of the discipline is reflected in the flexible degree requirements of the concentration. Students have the intellectual freedom to select a program that provides fundamentals in ESE that are aligned with their specific interests. Working closely with their concentration advisers, students develop a plan of study consisting of core courses from within the ESE program and approved electives from the closely related fields like Earth and Planetary Sciences, Integrative Biology, and other engineering disciplines and natural sciences to best support their individual academic goals. 

The AB degree consists of 14 courses (56 credits). Concentrators study the fundamental processes underlying environmental systems, including atmospheric sciences and climate dynamics; pollution of our air, water, and soil; and the development of sustainable energy systems. Throughout their coursework, students learn to apply these principles to understand and model complex environmental problems and to mitigate human impacts on the environment. In brief, concentrators are required to take a fundamental set of introductory math, physics, and chemistry courses as the foundation of their studies (6 of the 14 required courses). Students also take one foundational course (ESE 6, or one of a small number of appropriate Gen Ed courses by petition) to provide an introduction to the field. The remaining 7 courses are selected from a list of approved electives from across the breadth of the ESE course offerings, as well as related natural sciences. To provide a core foundation in environmental science and engineering, all students will be strongly recommended to take at least one course on environmental physics and at least one course on environmental chemistry. Additionally, 1 of the 5 remaining approved electives must be a course approved to have significant engineering design content, which provides each student with exposure to the design challenge of solving an environmental problem. 

14 courses (56 credits) 

  1. Required courses: 
    1. Mathematics (two courses): Applied Mathematics 21a and 21b, Applied Mathematics 22a and 22b, Mathematics 21a and 21b, Mathematics 22a and 22b, Mathematics 23a and 23b, or higher levels. Students should begin the mathematics sequence according to placement. 
    2. Physics (two courses): Physical Sciences 12a, Physics 15a or 16, or Applied Physics 50a; and Physical Sciences 12b, Physics 15b, or Applied Physics 50b 
    3. Chemistry (two courses): Select two courses from the following list: 
      1. Recommended: Physical Sciences 11 (or Physical Sciences 1, according to placement) 
      2. Life Sciences 1a (or Life and Physical Sciences A, according to placement) 
      3. Physical Sciences 10 
      4. Chemistry 17 or 20 
    4. Environmental Science and Engineering Introductory Course (one course): Environmental Science and Engineering 6 (or by petition General Education 1085, 1094, or 1137, or an alternative related General Education course may be substituted). 
    5. Breadth in Environmental Science and Engineering (two courses): 
      1. Note: Strongly recommended to select one course on environmental physics and one course on environmental chemistry. With permission from the Director of Undergraduate Studies, alternative ESE courses may be substituted. 
      2. One course on environmental physics: Environmental Science and Engineering 129, 131, 132, or 162 
      3. One course on environmental chemistry: Environmental Science and Engineering 133 or 163 
    6. Approved Electives (five courses): With permission from the Director of Undergraduate Studies, up to two of these five courses can be substituted with relevant, upper-level courses from other areas of natural sciences and engineering. 
      1. Environmental Science and Engineering 101, 109, 122, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 136, 138, 160, 161, 162, 163, 166, 169 
      2. Engineering Sciences 91r (one term), 96, 112, 115, 123, 181, 183 
      3. Earth and Planetary Sciences 53, 134, 187 
      4. Organismic and Evolutionary Biology 55, 120, 157 
  2. Design Experience: All students must take an approved course with significant design experience as one of their Approved Electives. This requirement may also be satisfied with a design component within a senior thesis, or a design component within an independent research project (ES 91r). 
  3. Sophomore Forum: Sophomore year. Non-credit. Spring term. 
  4. Thesis: A thesis is required for recommendations of high honors and highest honors, and for joint concentrators. 
  5. General Examination: None. 
  6. Other Information: 
    1. By prior petition and approval, other advanced undergraduate or graduate courses, as well as courses at MIT, can be used to satisfy general requirements and track requirements and electives. Petitions will only be considered for courses that possess technical content at a level similar to other upper-level engineering courses at SEAS. 
    2. Only one of ES 91r (4 credits) or ES 91hfr (4 credits) can count as an approved elective in the degree requirements. 
    3. Joint Concentrations: Environmental Science and Engineering participates in joint concentrations. A joint concentrator must fulfill all of the course requirements for the stand-alone degree; in addition, a joint concentrator is required to write an interdisciplinary thesis that combines the two fields. This thesis is required regardless of whether Environmental Science and Engineering is the primary or allied concentration. 
    4. Plan of Study: Concentrators are required to file an approved departmental Plan of Study and to keep their plan up to date in subsequent years. Plan of Study forms may be obtained from the Office of Academic Programs (Pierce Hall 110) or from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) website
    5. Pass/Fail and Sat/Unsat: All courses for concentration credit must be letter-graded. 
    6. Any exceptions to these policies must be approved via written petition. 


Students interested in concentrating in Environmental Science and Engineering should discuss their plans with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Elsie Sunderland, ems@seas.harvard.edu, 617-496-0858; or the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Patrick Ulrich, pulrich@seas.harvard.edu, 617-496-0542; or the Undergraduate Academic Programs Manager, Kathy Lovell, klovell@seas.harvard.edu, (617) 496-1524. 

Each undergraduate who elects to concentrate in Environmental Science and Engineering is assigned a faculty adviser. If students do not request a change in adviser, they have the same adviser until they graduate. Each student is reassigned to another faculty member while the student's original faculty adviser is on leave. It is expected that students will discuss their Plans of Study and progress with their Director or Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies at the beginning of each term. Students may also seek advice from their faculty adviser, the Director or Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies, or the Undergraduate Academic Programs Manager at any time. 


Further information is available from the Undergraduate Academic Programs Manager in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Office of Academic Programs, Pierce Hall 110 (617-495-2833). 

Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Environmental Science and Engineering 0 0 0 0 0 0 9 16
Environmental Science and Engineering + Another field 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 3
Another field + Environmental Science and Engineering 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4









*Environmental Science and Engineering was a new concentration for 2018-19.