Undergraduate Summer Research

Summer Research 2021

All Harvey Mudd College undergraduates are invited to participate in the Summer Research program of 2021. The application process for summer 2021 will open soon.  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 24–July 31) under the direction of Professor Lelia Hawkins. Students will be conducting research, learning about the chemistry profession and honing their presentation skills.  In addition to a research stipend, the Department of Chemistry will provide summer research housing assistance commensurate with financial need.  Please direct any questions to: chemistry@hmc.edu.

Professor Hawkins – Atmospheric Chemistry

Brown Carbon Aerosol Formation by Photooxidation of Phenolic Compounds in Nanodroplets. Students will work to understand transformation in atmospheric cloud water in a collaborate major research facility in Paris, France. For more details, see Atmospheric Chemistry (pdf).  Positions for summer 2021 are currently filled. Please visit this site again in early February to see if new positions are available

Professor Van Hecke – Liquid Crystal Projects and Liquid Projects

The general theme of the research in the Van Hecke lab is the study of the physical properties of low molar mass 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 and differential scanning calorimetry. (2) Equal Gibbs energy analyses of binary phase diagrams. (3) Computer simulation of phases exhibited by binary mixtures of simple shaped objects as models for molecules.  These projects will develop skills in using fluorescence spectrophotometers, differential scanning calorimetry, and computer modeling of temperature/composition phase diagrams.

Liquid projects

(1) Measuring excess Gibbs energy of liquid mixtures by laser light scattering. (2) Measuring pzieo-optic coefficients by laser interferometry. (3) Measuring isothermal compressibilities by combining several other independent measurements. These projects will help the student develop skills using a laser light scattering photometer, high precision densitometer, a high precision refractometer, a microwave interferometer and a Michelson interferometer.

The route to isothermal compressibility is as follows. The adiabatic compressibility is related to the isothermal compressibility by the following equation

New instrumentation now allows direct measurement of kS with a microwave interferometer and direct measurement of Cp with a new differential calorimeter. The existing densitometer will allow measurement of the isothermal coefficient of expansion a and the molar volume V.  Using the equation above the combined variable values will yield kT the isothermal compressibility. The direct measurement of kT is a very difficult experiment and the literature contains very little data for organic liquids. This project will seek to generate data for homologous liquids and their mixtures. The isothermal compressibility is also an important parameter to analyze light scattering data to obtain excess Gibbs energies in binary mixtures of organic liquids.

Binary mixtures of carboxylic acids: potential thermal energy storage systems.

Mixtures of long chain carboxylic acids [10 to 18 carbons] have been considered for thermal energy storage media because of their low melting behavior based on the formation of eutectic and peritectics.  Preliminary evidence in our laboratory has confirmed the formation of low melting mixtures. The new line of investigation will detail the energy associated with the phase changes of low melting mixtures. The primary tools for these studies will be differential scanning calorimetry and polarizing optical microscopy.  In addition, the discovered phase diagrams will be analyzed with the equal Gibbs energy model to discover whether the liquid phases are ideal or non-ideal.

For additional information, email Prof. Van Hecke at vanhecke@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
  • Synthesis & Reactivity: Use inorganic synthetic techniques to prepare nickel and cobalt compounds and evaluate their reactivity toward chlorinated hydrocarbons

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 or printing 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 – 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. Student researchers will gain experience performing reactions, purifying products, and analyzing compounds by thin-layer chromatography, mass spectrometry, and IR and NMR spectroscopy.

Research positions in the Vosburg lab are dependent on approval for in-person research at HMC, as we do not have a remote research option.

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