Faculty Profile: Professor Vosburg

Today we are featuring a conversation with Professor David Vosburg from Harvey Mudd’s Chemistry Department!

How long have you taught at Mudd?

I’ve taught at Mudd since 2005, with a sabbatical year in England in 2013-14 and in Mexico 2018-19.

Which classes do you teach regularly, and which are you teaching right now?

I regularly teach organic chemistry I and II and the corresponding lab courses. I’ve also taught frosh chem and lab, biochem class and lab, advanced organic chem, and Writ 1. I’m currently teaching organic I and lab, which is very fun and mostly with sophomores. This fall I’ll be teaching Writ 1 and organic lab. Last time I taught Writ 1, I dressed up as a wizard to read a selection from Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Maybe I’ll do something similar this fall for a new group of lucky frosh! 🙂

What is your favorite part of these classes?

In organic chemistry, I love seeing students figure things out (like how reactions work, for instance) and make new molecules. It’s awesome to learn more about how the world works and to create brand-new things. Mudd students are super collaborative, too!

What is your educational background?

I was a chem major at Williams College in Massachusetts, where I met my wife Kate (she was a math major) in a vibrant faith-related group on campus. I was fortunate to spend a summer doing chemistry research at Leiden University in The Netherlands. I was then the very first PhD student with my graduate advisor at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. I was making some anticancer natural products from scratch at that time, which was super exciting. I then wanted to learn how those compounds are made in nature, so I spent three years as a postdoc doing research on natural product biosynthesis at Harvard Medical School before coming to HMC.

How did you end up at Mudd?

It is funny to say that I went from Scripps to Harvard Med to Harvey Mudd (which is across the street from another Scripps), but it’s true! I knew since the time I was a student at Williams that I wanted to teach undergrads at a small, exceptional liberal arts college, and I was fortunate that Harvey Mudd had an opening when I was looking! I’m a Boston Red Sox fan, and it was cool that Prof. Daub (also a Red Sox fan) called to invite me for an HMC on-campus interview the morning after the Red Sox had won the World Series in 2004 (their first since 1918). It was joy upon joy!

What is your favorite part of Mudd or teaching?

I really enjoy the small size and great community at Mudd. I love having students over to my home for meals and getting to know them outside of class. Mudders are very motivated, and my research students have done tremendous things. It’s fun to keep up with alums after graduating and to continue to follow their lives and careers.

What does your research center on?

My research centers on creativity and sustainability: making new molecules and finding new ways to make chemicals in greener, more sustainable ways. We like our chemistry to be good and beautiful, green and clever. Current examples include one-step syntheses of antibiotic molecules, one-pot preparations of novel Xanax-like molecules, a milder way to make the anesthetic lidocaine, and an industrial partnership for greener coupling reactions. My students and I presented on all four of these projects at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego last month.

What do you enjoy outside of Mudd and teaching?

I enjoy sports, role-playing games, castles, natural beauty, and the compatibility of science and faith (and more generally, the life of the mind and faith). Since my sabbatical in Mexico, I have been learning a lot from reading the Bible in Spanish—often ideas come across so differently in another language! My son Diego and I were lucky to attend the Super Bowl this year (my wife won tickets for donating blood!).

Prof Vosburg and his son at Super Bowl LVI. Photo Credit: Prof Vosburg

Do you have any advice for prospective students?

For prospective students, I’d say that if you’d like a college that is challenging, supportive, quirky, exciting, fun, and collaborative—give Harvey Mudd a good look! Here you’ll have the opportunity to learn, explore, research, and grow. You’ll form friendships with other students, and likely with professors and staff, too. You’ll have the intimacy of a small college with the considerable resources of the entire Claremont Colleges consortium, since Scripps, Pitzer, Pomona, and Claremont McKenna are all within easy walking distance. Plus, maybe you’ll encounter a professor in a wizard outfit!

This blog was written by Malia Morgan '23, computer science major, Springfield, Missouri