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:

The application process for summer 2022 will open soon.

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 Karukstis – Integrating and Scaffolding Research into Undergraduate STEM Curricula: Probing Faculty, Student, Disciplinary, and Institutional Pathways to Transformational Change

I am looking for 1-2 students to work remotely with me to analyze data collected in my current NSF-IUSE (Improving Undergraduate Science Education) project.  This is a six-year project of national scope involving six co-principal investigators (including myself) from undergraduate institutions, the Council on Undergraduate Research, and Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research (administrators of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE).  Our work involves 24 departments (representing the disciplines of biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology) at 12 institutions across the country.  The project is conducting fundamental research on student, faculty, departmental, and disciplinary influences on the process of curricular transformation involving the integration of the components and outcomes of undergraduate research throughout a four-year curriculum.  To achieve a cohesive curriculum, departments use a backward design approach to develop scaffolded, research-rich courses and assignments. One of the overarching research questions being examined is: How do different departmental approaches and distinct disciplinary cultures impact the integration of the components and outcomes of undergraduate research into the curriculum?  The theory of change model that develops from this project will allow a broad and diverse range of institutional types and departments/disciplines to assess their readiness for research-scaffolded curricula and provide key insights into the effects of such curricular transformation on student achievement and organizational and cultural change.

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 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

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