Chemistry Research

Harvey Mudd chemistry faculty believe that research of project work on a significant chemical problem is a particularly valuable educational experience. Senior research (Chem 151-152) is the capstone experience of the chemistry degree. Students participate in research with faculty, some starting in their first year; all chemistry majors pursue research and write a senior thesis. About 15 to 25 students work on research projects in the department during the summer, and many papers co-authored by our students and faculty have been published.

Financial support for research comes from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Research Corporation, Merck/AAAS, Barbara Stokes Dewey Foundation, The Mellon Foundation, and The Beckman Foundation.

Summer Research 2022

All Harvey Mudd College undergraduates are invited to participate in the Summer Research program of 2022. Applications are especially encouraged from chemistry and chemistry/biology joint majors and underclassmen strongly considering a major in either discipline. Our summer program runs for 10 weeks (tentatively May 23–July 29) under the direction of Professor Lelia Hawkins. Students will be conducting research, learning about the chemistry profession and honing their presentation skills.  Please direct any questions to: chemistry@hmc.edu.

The application process for summer 2022 is open.

Professor Hawkins – Atmospheric Chemistry

Brown Carbon Aerosol Formation by Photooxidation of Phenolic Compounds in Nanodroplets OR Fieldwork in a French forest (location TBD)
Students will work as part of a collaborative team doing atmospheric chemistry research in or outside of Paris, France. For more details, see Atmospheric Chemistry (pdf).
Ambient measurement of air pollution chemical, physical, and optical properties
Pending delivery of instrumentation and timing of infrastructure changes in my lab, there may also be an opportunity for students to be involved in calibration and testing of air quality instrumentation in preparation for long-term monitoring. Techniques include aerosol mass spectrometry, UV/visible spectroscopy, particle sizing, and use of low-cost sensors. Students interested in knowing more should reach out directly to Prof. Hawkins.

Professor Nemr – Teaching Material Development in the Freshman Chemistry Core

The goal of this research project will be to propose and develop new teaching materials (e.g. laboratory experiment, in-class activity, etc.) for the freshman chemistry course at Harvey Mudd College. A literature search in the field of chemistry education at the undergraduate level will be completed to identify several candidate teaching materials that may be incorporated in the new core chemistry curriculum at HMC. Working with Prof. Nemr, learning objectives will be determined, which will help guide the adaptation and optimization of teaching materials that are suited for the freshman chemistry courses at HMC (i.e. Chem 23 and/or Chem 24). If working on developing a lab, the student will conduct experiments and propose modifications, as needed. In addition, the student will be involved in the development of discussion questions for the experiment write-up and the creation of a grade sheet for the experiment. If developing in-class activities, the student will create the associated teaching materials (e.g. slides, handouts, grade sheets, etc.) to match course content and learning objectives.

Please meet with Prof. Nemr to talk about the project and your experiences. You can schedule a meeting by email: cnemr@g.hmc.edu.

Professor Van Heuvelen – Development of Bio-Inspired, Environmentally Friendly Catalysts

Developing Bio-Inspired Catalysts

Metalloenzymes found in biological systems catalyze a remarkable range of reactions with impressive efficiency and selectivity, and these reactions occur under benign conditions using earth-abundant materials. The Van Heuvelen lab draws inspiration from nature to develop new, environmentally friendly catalysts for important reactions.

We are currently studying the dechlorination of carcinogenic pollutants perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene. Metalloenzymes containing cobalt or nickel have been shown to remediate these pollutants. We synthesize small molecular mimics of metalloenzyme active sites and evaluate their reactivity. Insights into the fundamental chemistry that governs these reactions will be used to improve our catalyst design. We also study our compounds using computational methods.

Students interested in this work are encouraged to contact Prof. Van Heuvelen at vanheuvelen@g.hmc.edu to talk about opportunities in the lab this summer.

Opportunities for Students:

  • Computational Chemistry: Calculate geometric and electronic structure of nickel and cobalt compounds and investigate possible reaction pathways

All summer research in the Van Heuvelen lab will be remote in summer 2021

Professor Van Ryswyk – Low-Cost Photovoltaics for Solar Energy Conversion

We do fundamental materials chemistry research on photovoltaics, materials that convert sunlight to electricity, aiming to improve the efficiency of cells constructed from low-cost materials that can be applied to large-area surfaces. Current projects include:

Construction and testing of photovoltaics

  • dye-sensitized solar cells incorporating zinc oxide nanotube and nanosheet photoanodes;
  • heterojunction cells produced by spraying or printing colloidal suspensions of quantum dots; and
  • quantum dot synthesis and surface chemistry.

Measuring quantum dot size with pulsed field gradient NMR

With respect to the first project, there is a wide array of activities in our lab, including solid-state synthesis, cell construction, and materials characterization. We use tools as diverse as absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, current-voltage curve analysis, and various forms of impedance spectroscopy to characterize our devices.

With respect to the second project, quantum dots are zero-dimensional semiconductors used in photovoltaics, displays, and medical treatment and imaging. Pulsed field gradient nuclear magnetic resonance (PFG-NMR) is a powerful technique closely related to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for measuring diffusion coefficients in solution.  These diffusion coefficients are used to calculate hydrodynamic radii which are compared to core radii obtained from optical absorbance sizing curves and light scattering experiments, providing insight into the structure of quantum dots in colloidal suspension and the nature of the information provided by pulsed field gradient NMR.  This project involves quantum dot synthesis and measurement of quantum dot sizes via PRG NMR, optical absorbance, and light scattering.

For additional information, email Prof. Van Ryswyk at vanryswyk@hmc.edu

Professor Vosburg – Green Organic Synthesis

We are developing eco-friendly reactions to rapidly prepare complex molecules (many of which have never been synthesized) with potential medical and optical applications. We aim to prepare these compounds in 1-3 steps with minimal waste, and selected products will be submitted to collaborators for antibiotic screening and/or tested for fluorescent properties. We are also starting a new project developing a new, green acylation method in collaboration with an industrial partner. Student researchers will gain experience performing reactions, purifying products, and analyzing compounds by thin-layer chromatography, mass spectrometry, and IR and NMR spectroscopy.

For additional information, email Prof. Vosburg at vosburg@g.hmc.edu