Gate entry to Harvard Radcliffe Institute

Radcliffe Institute
For Advanced Study

The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University—known as Harvard Radcliffe Institute—is one of the world’s leading centers for interdisciplinary exploration. We bring students, scholars, artists, and practitioners together to pursue curiosity-driven research, expand human understanding, and grapple with questions that demand insight from across disciplines.

An illustration of the Earth and a cold interstellar cloud

A Paradigm-Shifting Cosmic Encounter

On June 10, 2024, Nature Astronomy published a paper coauthored by the astrophysicist Merav Opher—a 2024 summer fellow and 2021–2022 William Bentinck-Smith Fellow at Radcliffe, where much of the work was done. The authors find that 2–3 million years ago our solar system may have encountered a dense cold interstellar medium cloud, and the Earth’s exposure and related massive increase of hydrogen and radiation almost certainly had a substantial impact on our planet and its climate. This could well be the explanation for a range of phenomena, like ice ages, diversification of species, and the extinction of dinosaurs. It offers a new paradigm that the location of the Sun had a possible direct effect on the Earth. These findings are only the beginning of an exciting new phase of research. 

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A photo of the HRI flag in Radcliffe Yard.

Harvard Radcliffe Institute Announces 2024–2025 Fellows

The Harvard Radcliffe Institute Fellowship Program offers scholars in the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and arts—as well as writers, journalists, and other distinguished professionals—a rare chance to pursue ambitious projects for a full year in a vibrant interdisciplinary setting amid the resources of Harvard. The 2024–2025 worldwide cohort marks our historic 25th anniversary class of fellows.

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BornCurious Podcast

01 / 21

Meet Our 2023–2024 Fellows

01 / 09

By the Numbers

Fellows 1,249
Radcliffe fellowships awarded since the Institute’s founding
Public Events 64,156
Number of people to attend Harvard Radcliffe Institute public events (virtually and in person) since fall 2020
Schlesinger Library Collections 999,999+
Pages of historical material digitized and made available to researchers since 2015

Highlights: Women, Gender, and Society

01 / 26

Events

01 / 04

News & Ideas

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Stars have winds. A star’s motion, with its wind, creates a cocoon or a sac—an “astrosphere”—and our Sun’s cocoon is known as the heliosphere. The heliosphere shelters our solar system from the interstellar medium and its radiation known as galactic cosmic rays. Recently, geologists discovered extraterrestrial radioactive isotopes on Earth that could only have come from outside our heliosphere. How and when were we exposed?   Today, Nature Astronomy published “A Possible Direct Exposure of the Earth to the Cold Dense Interstellar Medium 2–3 Myr Ago.” In this video, the lead author, Merav Opher, discusses her team’s discovery that 2–3 million years ago the heliosphere appears to have been dramatically compressed, which would have forced the Earth out of its protective sac, leaving it exposed.   The Earth’s exposure almost certainly had a substantial impact on our planet and its climate. This research indicates that there is good reason to explore whether this expulsion from the heliosphere affected the Earth’s ancient climate. This could well be the explanation for a range of phenomena, including ice ages, diversification of species, and the extinction of dinosaurs.   Opher is a professor of astronomy at Boston University and the 2021–2022 William Bentinck-Smith Fellow and a 2024 summer fellow at Harvard Radcliffe Institute, where much of this work was done.   For more information about this exciting discovery, head over to our Linktree to read an article in the Harvard Gazette.

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As we close out #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth, we share this video of Gabrielle Calvocoressi talking about “the closet of mental illness.” They also share a new poem about finding words for the unspeakable—and finding joy amid emotional turmoil.

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Meet the winners of the 2024 Captain Jonathan Fay Prize, the annual award for the top theses of Harvard College’s graduating class. Pictured here with Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin, they are (from left) Dhruv Goel, Charlotte Skye Baker, and Justin Hu—congratulations to these outstanding graduating seniors! To learn more about their winning work, visit our Linktree.

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