“Honestly that’s what research is. It’s all troubleshooting,” said Joshua Heuvel-Horwitz ’23 — the URECA researcher of the month for March 2022 — who has experienced the day-to-day process of working through problems as an undergraduate researcher in the group of Chemistry Professor Trevor Sears since 2019.
The chemical and molecular engineering major in Stony Brook’s Honors College began by learning soldering and circuit design, constructing microelectronic circuits on a custom-printed circuit board. He also gained skills in computational modeling with Python, and MATLAB, and then progressed to high-precision spectroscopy experiments. Sears’ research focuses on the measurement and understanding of the spectra of small gas-phase molecules. “We’re basically shooting lasers at a gas and measuring how much light the gas absorbs,” said Heuvel-Horwitz. “We’ve been studying simple molecules such as acetylene, methane — and the idea basically is to get really high resolution measurements so that we can study, for instance, the spectra of gases under the conditions existing in the atmosphere of Titan, a moon of Saturn. And it might tell us more about early conditions on Earth.”
When asked how he first got involved in research as a freshman, Heuvel-Horwitz said, “I just approached Dr. Sears directly. I was going through different sites, looking at faculty research groups that I thought were kind of interesting. So I just showed up to his office one day and asked about opportunities, and right away he let me know that he had a project for me.”
Heuvel-Horwitz’s research in Summer 2020 on “Pressure and Temperature Broadening in the near-IR Spectra of Cryogenic CH4 and N2 Mixtures,” was funded through the PSEG-Explorations in STEM program administered by URECA and Stony Brook’s Career Center. More recently, his research on “Experimental Design for the Measurement and Analysis of Vibration-rotation Spectra of Molecules Relevant to Extra-terrestrial Bodies” was funded in Summer 2021 through the Brookhaven National Lab Science Undergraduate Learning Internship summer program. He presented this project at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Student Conference, where he won second place in the poster competition under the Education and General Papers category.
Heuvel-Horwitz has also been working on designing a teaching experimental apparatus for an undergraduate laboratory course on Molecular Structure and Spectroscopy.
On campus, he has served as events coordinator, treasurer, ChemE Car team leader, and currently ChemE Sports team captain for the Stony Brook student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.