Fall 2018 Courses Topics
Please note that students may apply to research topics outside of the ones listed below. Students are encouraged to submit their own topics for pre-approval by their professor.
Environmental Problems in Human Society:
Lessons from the Past, Engineering Future Solutions
How do ecosystems collapse? How can we engineer solutions to environmental catastrophe? Dr. Truncer’s course explores how human society can react to environmental systems collapse. Students may examine and research a variety of sustainability issues with regard to agricultural production, urbanization, infrastructure, resource use, and modern day engineering innovations. Dr. Truncer has previously taught his course at Harvard and Stanford University.
Pre-approved Topic List
1. What advantages does organic farming have over conventional farming? Can organic farms compete with conventional farms in feeding the world?
2. How can cities and their infrastructure be designed for the predicted changes in climate? Provide specific examples in your response.
3. The recent tremendous growth of urban areas has created a multitude of environmental problems and challenges. Choose one area of urban design that can improve the urban environment – what costs and benefits are involved?
4. What are the latest advances in hydroponic and vertical farming? Are these the food production methods of the future? What are the costs?
5. Are the economic benefits of dam building worth the environmental costs?
6. Sea level rise is expected to impact many coastal cities and islands (e.g. Andaman Islands) in the coming years. What are the advantages or disadvantages of relocating an island settlement or city versus building dikes and protective barriers such as in the case of the Netherlands?
7. Are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) significantly different from the variation produced through more traditional methods of cross-breeding and the creation of hybrids?
8. Oceans are absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and are becoming more acidic. How will this affect marine ecosystems and thus human society? What policies might be implemented to make the public more aware of this looming environmental crisis and what incentives would encourage governments to take action?
9. Money and research are now being poured into the technology of self-driving cars. Is maintaining the concept of “car” an efficient means of transportation, or are there better, more sustainable systems for the movement of people?
10. Soil erosion is severe in many areas of the world. What farming methods and other activities are creating this erosion? What farming methods can not only reduce soil erosion but build nutrient-rich soil that enhances crop yields and lowers carbon emissions substantially? What policies might encourage soil conservation on farmland?
11. Renewable energy sources are gaining more and more attention, and represent an increasingly larger percentage of energy production. What is the most promising type of renewable energy and why? Can modern society completely convert to renewable energy sources from a largely carbon-based system? What further advances or changes in lifestyle might be required?
12. Most large farms rely on mechanization and need to add massive amounts of artificial fertilizer to produce high crop yields. How did this situation come about, and is this a sustainable practice? What are the carbon costs of such agriculture and are there feasible alternatives?
13. Can sustainable practices be successfully incorporated into current business models? If not, what might need to change in order to create a better fit?
14. Are United Nations treaties and resolutions an effective means to pass worldwide sustainability measures or is a different system necessary?
15. Some architects are now designing “walkable” cities. What does this mean and what are the advantages and disadvantages of such an urban design? Illustrate your response with examples.
16. Aquaculture, or fish farming, is increasingly providing a major source of food for a growing world population. What forms of aquaculture are most sustainable, and which forms are the least sustainable? Why? Provide specific examples of aquaculture in your analysis.
How does our psychology influence the decisions we make every day and, ultimately, economic outcomes? Professor Gallo's course explores the heuristics, or rules-of-thumb, our brain constantly employs to makes choices, and how in some instances they systematically backfire leading to biases in our decisions. You will be a participant in live experiments and learn how social scientists use them to study how people behave. Professor Gallo has previously taught at Harvard and Oxford, and he is currently teaching behavioral economics as well as other courses at Cambridge.
Pre-approved Topic List
1. What behavioral principles should be used to design a pension scheme?
2. What type of policies mitigate the bad consequences of unemployment?
3. Design an insurance policy that is going to attract consumers by exploiting psychological biases.
4. Humans are prone to errors when making decisions under uncertainty. How can modern technology reduce these errors?
5. Pollution is a problem affecting most large metropolitan areas. How may insights from psychology inform urban policy to decrease pollution?
6. Top students from disadvantaged backgrounds often do not apply to the best universities. What are the potential reasons and what kind of actions can be taken to change this?
7. Doctors routinely make recommendations that may have life/death implications for their patients. How can biases in decision-making affect their advice?
8. How can we increase the rate at which individuals recycle?
9. Describe how psychological biases may affect judicial decisions and propose policy changes to minimize their negative impact.
10. Delays in paying income tax lead to significant financial losses from governments. What design changes could be made to tax collection policy to minimize these delays?
11. Buying a house is an infrequent transaction with large financial consequences. In what ways can a prospective house buyer or seller avoid mistakes due to psychological biases?
12. A new type of fertilizer has been invented that increases crop yields by 300%. Nevertheless, farmers are not adopting it. What could be the reasons and what policies can be implemented to increase takeup?
13. A major supermarket chain has hired you as a consultant to apply behavioral principles to improve their sales. Write a report with your recommendations.
14. You are a financial advisor for a wealthy individual. Come up with an investment strategy that avoids pitfalls from biases in decision making.
15. Develop an idea for a phone app that uses insights from behavioral economics to improve an individual’s health.
Controversies in International Relations
What are the causes of war and peace? Professor Rezvani’s course explores the theories, patterns, and frameworks of international relations. It critically examines controversies surrounding current phenomena such as world governance, state failure, international injustice, and great power competition. Professor Rezvani had previously taught at Harvard, MIT, and Oxford University.
Pre-approved Topic List
1. What is the greatest challenge to China’s “One Belt, One Road” project and how can it be overcome?
2. Should other countries be happy or worried about the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)?
3. Unlike the countries of Europe, why is there no East Asian Union?
4. What were the most effective governmental responses to the East Asian financial crisis?
5. What is the best type of free trade agreement for Asia?
6. Should Catalonia become independent from Spain?
7. In light of the US financial crisis in Puerto Rico, what is the best status option for the territory?
8. Is it good or bad for countries (like the United Kingdom) to be a part of the European Union?
9. What political outcome has the best chance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
10. In light of the massive flow of refugees from places like the Middle East to Europe, is international migration bad for host countries?
11. Should the international community prohibit Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons?
12. Is global poverty better reduced through free trade or international aid?
13. Does humanitarian disaster justify military intervention?
14. Is the balance of power still relevant in modern international politics?
15. What should countries do to reduce problems from weak and failed states?
16. Was it a right choice for America and its allies to have invaded Libya?
17. What role should countries play in their policy toward Syria?
18. What policy should America adopt toward ISIS?
19. What strategy should the US adopt for managing its relations with Russia?