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Science Forum Honors K Chemistry Major’s Research

A Kalamazoo College chemistry major was one of just four students – and the only undergraduate – honored with recognition in January at an international science forum for a poster presentation of his research.

Science Forum Eric Thornburg and Jeff Bartz

Kalamazoo College chemistry major Eric Thornburg was one of just four students honored with recognition in January at an international science forum for a poster presentation of his research.

Eric Thornburg ’17, a Kalamazoo native, presented research on the photodissociation dynamics of nitrous acid, known through the molecular structure of HONO, at the Pacific Conference on Spectroscopy and Dynamics from Jan. 19-22 in Asilomar, Calif.

Spectroscopy measures light in terms of how materials emit, absorb or scatter it. In simple terms, the research, conducted over two years in Dow Science Center’s laser lab at K, furthers investigations into how the atmosphere attempts to reverse climate change as a result of nitrous acid and what humans might do about it.

The conference, touted by its website as one of the longest-running scientific conferences in the U.S., provides a forum for the dissemination and discussion of the latest results in chemistry and physics, and their confluence with biology.

Thornburg said this forum “provided a cool window into what my future holds. It’s great to be around people doing such a high level of work. I always hear about it, but rarely do we get to match faces and people with their experiments. In the future, (scientists) will have to collaborate more and more.”

Still, Thornburg didn’t realize he had been recognized in this way until after he returned to Kalamazoo. He and Chemistry Department Chair Jeffrey Bartz were reading the Journal of Physical Chemistry when they came across Thornburg’s name, mentioning the honor.

“It is really an honor that people saw my research and wanted to commend it,” Thornburg said. “I feel more prepared moving forward to contribute to conferences and the scientific community.”

Thornburg, who also minors in German, said K is an extraordinary place for math and science. He credits fellow students Marlon Gonzalez, Joyce Nguyen and Mia Orlando; recent K alumni Jeremy Lantis ’16 and Mara Birndorf ’16; and Bartz for integral assistance in performing the research.

“I’ve had a chance to work closely with Dr. Bartz, while sitting down and discussing how to implement this research,” Thornburg said. “He’d look at me and say, ‘What do you want to do?’ You don’t get that at a place that’s not like K.”

Thornburg will attend the University of Illinois this fall to seek his Ph.D. in chemistry.