Undergraduate Summer Research

Summer Research 2016

All Harvey Mudd College undergraduates are invited to participate in the Summer Research program of 2016. 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 (May 23 – July 29) under the direction of Professor David Vosburg. Students will be conducting research, learning about the chemistry profession, and honing their presentation skills. The application process will open January 8 – February 5, 2016. Please direct any questions to: chemistry@hmc.edu.

The summer research application process is now closed.

2016 Research Projects

Professor Daub – Theoretical Studies on the Transition State Topologies for Claisen Rearrangements

Theoretical Studies on the Transition State Topologies for Claisen Rearrangements (abstract)
This is a joint project with Professor Robert Cave in which transition state energies are evaluated using DFT calculations in an effort to see how well the results correlate with experimental data.

For additional information, email Prof. Daub at daub@g.hmc.edu.

Professor Duim – Fluorescence Nanoscopy of Protein Aggregates

Fluorescence Nanoscopy of Protein Aggregates (abstract)

The Duim lab uses single-molecule and super-resolved fluorescence nanoscopy to go beyond the diffraction limit of visible light (~250 nm) and probe molecular structures and interactions down to the 10-50 nm scale. Our techniques allow us to study biological and chemical processes on the small length scales and in the environments where they occur. We are specifically interested in the protein aggregates formed during the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases. These aggregates contain a great deal of fine structural detail below the optical diffraction limit and their morphology is sensitive to the conditions under which they form. Our goal is to elucidate the mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative disease.

This summer, we will be (1) optimizing our custom fluorescence nanoscope, (2) characterizing the structures and growth of Huntington’s disease protein aggregates, and (3) developing image processing algorithms and computer models of aggregation in collaboration with Professor Levy of the mathematics department.

For additional information, email Prof. Duim at wduim@g.hmc.edu.

Professor Haushalter – The Design and Testing of RNA Structures Built on a tRNA Scaffold

Research in the Haushalter lab focuses on the design and testing of RNA structures built on a tRNA scaffold.  Currently, these chimeric RNA molecules are being tested for their ability to inhibit HIV-1 replication in a cell-culture, luciferase-reporter based assay.  Student researchers in the Haushalter lab have the opportunity to engage in the design, construction, and testing of new constructs and will gain experience in molecular biology and biochemistry.

For additional information, email Prof. Haushalter at haushalter@g.hmc.edu.

Professor Hawkins – Atmospheric Chemistry

Atmospheric chemistry: How brown is Los Angeles aerosol? (abstract)

The Hawkins lab has a sampling system to collect atmospheric aerosol particles (like smog), measure their UV/vis absorption spectrum, and the total organic carbon content. Students will use operate the sampling system and analyze the times series to understand particle sources and chemical transformations. A literature-based research project will support the analysis process to aid in understanding how brown carbon aerosol forms.
Single-particle morphology and composition for atmospheric aerosol are critical for understanding how particles impact climate (and climate change). Students will use Atomic Force Microscopy to probe particle material properties as a function of temperature and composition.

Many studies have shown that the presence of overnight fog can alter the chemical composition and mass of particulate matter. The Hawkins lab would like to develop a way to simulate fog conditions so that ambient (atmospheric) particles can be exposed to fog and then sampled. Students will use a super-saturation chamber to make fog in the lab and to study the reactions of particles in fog.

For additional information, email Prof. Hawkins at lhawkins@g.hmc.edu.

Professor Karukstis – Self-Assembly of Chromonic Dyes

The Karukstis laboratory explores the self-assembly of amphiphilic molecules with dual hydrophilic and hydrophobic character to create complex hierarchical structure via intermolecular interactions. (abstract)

Spectroscopic studies (absorbance and fluorescence) of increasing concentrations of chromonic dyes in aqueous solution. We will monitor the changes in absorption spectral shape and intensity as well as the shift in emission wavelength of an extrinsic fluorophore as dye concentrations are varied to reveal the nature of the aggregation process.

Light scattering studies to measure the root-mean-square radius of the dye aggregate. The concentration dependence of the size of the aggregate will reveal whether self-assembly is a continuous process or requires a threshold concentration to initiate aggregation. Correlation of the nature of the stacking process with dye structure may provide insights into the mechanism of the self-assembly process.

For additional information, please email Prof. Karukstis at karukstis@g.hmc.edu.

Professor Van Hecke – Liquid Crystal Projects and Liquid Projects

The general theme of the research in the Van Hecke lab is the study of liquids, the physical chemistry of liquids, particularly liquid crystals and binary mixtures of alcohols and hydrocarbons.

Liquid crystal projects

(1) Determination of binary phase diagrams of surfactants or chromonic materials in water or ionic liquids by fluorescence spectroscopy or differential scanning calorimetry. (2) Computer simulation of phases exhibited by binary mixtures of simple shaped objects as models for molecules. (3) Equal Gibbs energy analyses of binary phase diagrams.

Liquid projects

(1) Measuring excess Gibbs energy of liquid mixtures by laser light scattering. (2) Measuring pzieo-optic coefficients and isothermal compressibilities by laser refractometry.

For additional information, email Prof. Van Hecke at vanhecke@g.hmc.edu.

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

Development of Bio-Inspired, Environmentally Friendly Catalysts (abstract)

We use a combination of synthesis, spectroscopy, reactivity studies, and computational chemistry to understand how important reactions occur in biological systems, and we use this understanding in the development of new catalysts.

Enzymes found in biological systems catalyze a remarkable range of reactions with impressive efficiency and selectivity, and these reactions occur under benign conditions. In the lab and in industry, however, we often conduct the same reactions using rare and expensive elements and harsh reaction conditions. The Van Heuvelen lab takes inspiration from nature to develop new, environmentally friendly catalysts for important reactions.

The reactions we study include (1) the dechlorination of a carcinogenic pollutant found in ground water and (2) the activation of C-H bonds in methane, which is the main component of natural gas. The metalloenzymes we are studying include the cobalt-containing Vitamin B12 and the nickel-containing methyl-coenzyme M reductase (MCR).

This summer, we will study molecular models of Vitamin B12 and MCR in order to understand how geometric and electronic structure affect reactivity, and we will use this understanding to develop new catalysts. Students may focus on synthesis, spectroscopy, reactivity, and/or computational chemistry.

For additional information, email Prof. Van Heuvelen at vanheuvelen@g.hmc.edu.

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

We do fundamental materials chemistry research on photovoltaics, aiming to improve the efficiency of cells constructed from low-cost materials that can be applied to large-area surfaces. Current projects include:
• dye-sensitized solar cells incorporating zinc oxide nanotube and nanosheet photoanodes;
• heterojunction cells produced by spraying colloidal suspensions of quantum dots; and
• quantum dot synthesis and surface chemistry.
There are 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.

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

Professor Vosburg – Biomimetic Synthesis and Green Chemistry

Biomimetic Synthesis and Green Chemistry (abstract)

As organic chemists inspired by biology, researchers in the Vosburg laboratory pursue biomimetic and green strategies in syntheses of medicinal natural products or related complex structures. Our biomimetic approaches are inspired by consideration of how these molecules may be created in nature. When possible, we seek green methods that reduce the energy, waste, and time required to produce these elegant molecules. A collaboration with the Cave laboratory focuses on computational models of biomimetic reaction cascades.

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