Chemistry Alumni Profiles

No two Harvey Mudd College Chemistry majors are exactly alike! Some students are attracted to the field of chemistry because of its central importance in the world around us. Others recognize that a chemistry degree provides access to the frontiers of many modern and emerging fields—materials, biotechnology, nano-technology and pharmaceutical chemistry, to name just a few. Students are challenged by the complexity of molecular structure, the design of synthetic schemes, the quantitative characterization of materials and compounds, or the intricate relationships between theory and experiment. Whether you’re looking for a lifelong career in chemistry or just a broad-based foundation that will afford a myriad of future opportunities, a chemistry degree at Harvey Mudd College may be the answer for you.

With more than 700 chemistry alumni to date, we couldn’t possibly describe all of the directions that our students have taken after graduating from Harvey Mudd. But to give you a sense of the scope of careers possible, the following alumni profiles illustrate the diverse range of paths that our majors have pursued. In addition to traditional areas of chemistry, you’ll find that the Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry at Harvey Mudd College has prepared our graduates for employment and advanced study in such fields as biochemistry, biomedical engineering, business management, chemical engineering, environmental engineering, geochemistry, medicinal chemistry, medicine, microbiology, neurology, patent law, pharmacology, physiology and scientific publishing. The opportunities are endless!

Eric Toberer ’02

Eric earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in materials with Professor Ram Seshadri.  After completing a Beckman Postdoctoral Fellow at California Institute of Technology, with Professors Jeff Snyder and Sossina Haile, Eric Toberer has started as assistant professor of physics at Colorado School of Mines. Eric says this work is at the interface between chemistry, solid state physics and material science and targets new materials for energy applications. Eric and his group develop predictive relationships between the chemical structure of a material and the resulting properties, thereby guiding our search for new energy materials. Further insight into our experimental results is obtained through close collaborations with computational groups.  Our current focus is on electron and phonon transport in thermoelectric materials. Here, we investigate how the electron and phonon band structure and scattering sources control transport. Beyond thermoelectric materials, this fascination with transport in the solid state has application to other energy systems such as fuel cells, photovoltaics and batteries.

Tom Smith ’80

Tom earned his MS in Food Science at UC Davis after graduating from Harvey Mudd College.  Tom reminds us that in addition to getting a degree in Chemistry, more importantly, he learned how to think, analyze, and problem solve at Mudd.

As Vice President for E. & J. Gallo Winery, Tom leads Gallo’s tremendous research commitment, which largely addresses grape growing and winemaking in California, especially in the Central Valley. Over the course of time, research effort has resulted in dramatic improvements in the quality of wine from the Central Valley, through improvements in winegrape varieties and their clonal selections, developing of sustainable and quality-enhancing grape growing practices, developing analytical metrics for assessing the quality of grapes, developing analytical and sensory metrics for determining optimal harvest timing, developing large scale yet value-adding winemaking practices, and driving industry-wide awareness and improvements in bottle closures.

Tom also leads the grape growing and winemaking efforts for Barefoot Cellars, a brand which has grown 1600% since acquired in 2004, into a position where it is now the highest revenue wine brand in the USA. Previously, before E. & J. Gallo Winery, Tom’s Delicato Vineyards Shiraz was awarded “Best Shiraz of California” for three years in a row at the California State Fair.

Rachel Nishimura ’09

Rachel is currently a Chemistry Research Assistant in the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease area at Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical R&D LLC. Previous to this position, Rachel was an Associate Chemist at The Gas Company for eight months where she performed chemical analysis and biofuel/biogas experimental development for the Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG) Plant. She also coordinated safety activities as an extension of the Environmental Health and Safety Department. Her interest is to utilize chemistry to solve problems in energy, environmental sustainability, and health.

Tyrel McQueen ’04

Tyrel pursued his Ph.D. at Princeton University with Professor Robert Cava, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Professor Dan Nocera. Tyrel recently joined Johns Hopkins University with a joint appointment in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physics and Astronomy. As a materials chemist, The McQueen Laboratory is focused on the discovery of new phenomena through the design and synthesis of new materials. This can best be summarized as “Discovery Driven Research”

Neel Joshi ’01

Neel conducted his graduate research with Professor Matt Francis in Organic Chemistry at UC Berkeley, and a postdoctoral research at Boston University with Professor Mark Grinstaff, synthesizing dendrimeric macromolecules for use as scaffolds in cartilage tissue engineering and developing new contrast agents capable of assessing the health of cartilage tissue using computed tomography (CT).  Neel accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering in the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Neel is also a core faculty member of the new Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

Fred Brander ’73

Founder, owner, and winemaker of the Brander Vineyards and Winery in Los Olivos, California, Fred has earned a reputation for his distinctive wines and aggressive canopy management of his vineyard. Fred’s senior research thesis title at Harvey Mudd revealed his passion for wine, “Volatile Composition of Vitis Vinifera Zinfandel. Neutral Components Extracted from Wine.” A graduate of Laguna Blanca School in Santa Barbara, CA, Fred earned an M.S. degree from U.C. Davis in enology in 1975. His first Sauvignon Blanc harvest in 1977 won Santa Barbara County’s first gold medal at a major wine competition.

Kari Birkeland ’91

Kari is a lead environmental artist at 38 Studios. Kari received her Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry from Northwestern University in 1995. After a time with Dow Chemical Company, Kari pursued her interest in the arts. She earned her an art degree from the Art Academy of Los Angeles and Gnomon School of Visual Effects.