Faculty-led Scholarship in Climate, Environment, and Sustainability Fields

Faculty featured here have identified themselves as engaged in scholarship areas that intersect Hixon Center goals, such as clean energy generation, air pollution chemistry, and urban bicycle infrastructure. The diverse focus areas shown here illustrate that climate and environmental solutions come from every angle, modeling for students how their own passions and interests might intersect with a career in climate or sustainability.

Lelia Hawkins and students wearing hard hats.

Lelia Hawkins, Chemistry

Professor Hawkins’ research sits at the intersection of air pollution and climate change, with an emphasis in measurements of atmospheric particulate matter.

Recent projects include measurements of air pollution in Claremont and Paris, France using aerosol mass spectrometry. We are now setting up a new observation platform in Joshua Tree National Park.

In addition, students working with Professor Hawkins often design laboratory studies to simulate a particular process in the atmosphere, such as the reaction of air pollution in clouds.

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Dr. Kavassalis with students.

Sarah Kavassalis, Chemistry

Professor Kavassalis’s research at Mudd is centered around building interdisciplinary, computational tools to improve our ability to simulate Earth’s atmosphere or communicate findings from those simulations.

Our big project right now is focused on determining the applicability and limitations of machine learning for air quality prediction. Additional group projects include building cellular automata to simulate atmospheric chemical reactions, improving scientific figures by using computational saliency algorithms, and using language models to identify what features of scientific papers make them more likely to get cited by policy makers.

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Portrait of Stephen C. Adolph.

Stephen C. Adolph, Biology

Our laboratory investigates the physiological, evolutionary, and behavioral ecology of lizards.

Some current research topics include stochastic population dynamics of Xantusia lizards, optimal foraging in arboreal lizards, physiological ecology of lizard eggs, and the evolution of thermal performance curves. Past projects have investigated tuatara conservation, tarantula locomotion, lizard running performance, and lizard thermal biology.

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Portrait of Hal Van Ryswyk.

Hal Van Ryswyk, Chemistry

Professor Van Ryswyk’s team is interested in low-cost photovoltaics, devices that convert sunlight to electricity using material cheaper than silicon.

Current examples include dye-sensitized solar cells and colloidal quantum dot solar cells. We do a little of it all — design, synthesis, and characterization using the tools of chemistry, physics, and materials science.

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Portrait of Weiqing Gu.

Weiqing Gu, Mathematics

I love to work with my students by applying machine learning and big data analysis to solve real world problems. Machine Learning on Minimizing Irrigation Water for Lawns was published with a former student, Zhaocheng Yi.

Student working on machine.

Chris Clark, Engineering

For the last decade, researchers in the Lab for Autonomous and Intelligent Robotics have been studying and modeling the motion behaviors of fish and sharks, as well as the habitats they reside in, via autonomous robot systems. Most recently, our team collaborated with CSU Long Beach and the University of Costa Rica to study Nurse sharks and Sea turtles along the coast of Costa Rica.

ICEX 2022: Costa Rica

Students wearing bicycle revolution jerseys.

Paul Steinberg, HSA

Paul Steinberg is Professor of Political Science and Environmental Policy at Harvey Mudd College, where he directs The Social Rules Project. Courses include comparative environmental politics, global environmental politics, tropical forests, and Bicycle Revolution.

Portrait of Catherine S. McFadden.

Catherine S. McFadden

Professor McFadden’s research addresses the evolutionary relationships of marine organisms, primarily corals belonging to the cnidarian sub-class Octocorallia. She and her students use a variety of molecular techniques to address the phylogenetic relationships among higher taxa of octocorals, relationships of genera and species boundaries in the soft coral family Alcyoniidae, and the evolutionary consequences of hybridization between species in the soft coral genus Alcyonium. Much of the ongoing work in the lab focuses on the use of genomic data to construct a molecular phylogeny for the Cnidarian sub-class Anthozoa (corals and sea anemones) as part of the NSF-funded Anthozoan UCEs Project

Portrait of Katherine M. Van Heuvelen.

Katherine M. Van Heuvelen

Transition metals play a wide variety of roles in nature, including the catalysis of difficult chemical transformations. However, the complexity of biological systems often complicates detailed studies of catalytic cycles. My research centers on the design and characterization of small model complexes that mimic key geometric and electronic properties of metalloenzyme active sites. In particular, we are studying nickel and cobalt complexes using multiple spectroscopic and computational techniques.

Portrait of Whitney Fowler.

Whitney Fowler

Whitney Fowler designs and synthesizes bio-inspired materials to detect contaminants in water. She received her B.E. in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Vanderbilt University. She then worked for a nonprofit organization where she mentored undergraduate students before beginning work on her PhD at University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering. Under the co-advisement of professors Matthew Tirrell and Juan de Pablo, she designed materials to selectively isolate and recycle phosphate from aqueous solutions. She says she loves engineering and mentorship because of the potential to “bring about good in students’ lives and through them to the world around us,” so she looks forward to “holistically training up the next generation of diverse engineers to tackle pressing and complex global issues.”

Portrait of Dre Helmns.

Dre Helmns

Dre Helmns does research in the area of energy storage and conversion. A postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, they are working to develop decarbonized space conditioning and water heating systems that incorporate heat pumps, thermal energy storage, evaporative cooling and waste heat recovery components. Specifically, they use physics-based modeling of thermal equipment to enable innovative design and optimal operation of integrated energy systems for buildings and districts. As a queer and trans scholar and educator, Helmns aspires to transform the culture of engineering by cultivating inclusive learning environments and making space for new leaders, while contributing to sustainable solutions for our climate crisis. Their degrees in mechanical engineering are from University of California, Berkeley (PhD and M.S.) and Loyola Marymount University (B.S.). (Begins January 2023)

Portrait of Dede Long.

Dede Long

Dede Long is an environmental economist who applies microeconomic theory and econometrics to better understand the economic drivers and environmental consequences of environmental policies. She estimates the value of a clean environment and healthy ecosystems as well as how public and private incentives can be designed to promote the provision of environmental public goods. Long’s recent research focused on the health effects of air pollution, consumer preferences for eco-labeling and the economic benefits of coastal ecosystem restoration. She earned her PhD in applied economics with a specialization in environmental economics from Oregon State University and recently served as an assistant professor at California State University Long Beach.