Scientists Speak on Water's Role in Climate Change, Public Health and Planetary Science at Radcliffe Institute Event


Four early-career scientists presented their research findings on water’s role in climate change, earth science, public health, and planet habitability at a Radcliffe Institute event Friday.

The event was part of the “Next in Science” series spotlighting the work of up-and-coming researchers.

Alyssa A. Goodman, the co-director of the science program at the Radcliffe Institute and a professor of astronomy at Harvard, opened the event by emphasizing the importance of water as a life force.

“The reason that we chose “Next in Water” as the theme for this event is because of water’s value — and I don’t mean the price per liter of water, I mean the value of water to life on Earth, to the survival of our planet, to life on other planets, and to many creatures that we don't even think about,” Goodman said.


Hilary I. Palevksy, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Boston College, began the event with a presentation on the ocean’s relationship with climate change.

Palevksy spoke extensively about the importance of the ocean in absorbing and regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide. At the conclusion of her talk, Palevksy emphasized that fighting climate change requires “courage,” despite ongoing environmental challenges.

“Every little bit of climate change that we can avoid is going to save lives, save suffering, save ecosystems. There's no point of no return in which we throw up our hands and give up on this problem,” Palevsky said in an interview after her presentation. “There's always more we can do, no matter how rosy or dire the particular moment is feeling.”

The event’s second speaker, Randi Rotjan, an assistant professor of biology at Boston University, presented her research on the negative impacts of microplastics on the environment. Rotjan emphasized the urgency of plastic overconsumption by stating that “we’re swimming in a mess of our own making.”

Xindi Hu, an alum of the School of Public Health and a data scientist at Mathematica, detailed how modeling and analysis can “fill the data gap” in federally-collected information on water contaminants and exposure to pollution.

Laura K. Schaefer, an assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at Stanford University presented her work on water and planetary habitability. Schaefer said that scientists determine whether a planet has liquid water — a key indicator that it can support life — by examining a number of features, including the planet’s geology, size, and distance from a star.

Following the presentations, participants were invited to join a separate Zoom link, where they were placed into breakout rooms for discussion with the featured speakers.