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Engineering a Future

Engineering a FutureSenior chemical engineering major Nick Horelik, who spent this summer blending science with policy in Washington, D.C., thrives on a diverse range of opportunities.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.03.08] In the world of an engineering student, specializing is often the path to success.For Nick Horelik (E'09), however, variety could not be more important.

Starting his education as a computer engineering major, Horelik was quickly reminded of his high school love for chemistry during his freshman year, through the simple act of helping his girlfriend with homework. By his sophomore year, he changed his major tochemical engineering, with a minor in Chinese, and never looked back.

These days, Horelik continues to add to his impressive repertoire, now trying his hand at policymaking. This past summer, Horelik participated in the Washington Internship for Students of Engineering (WISE) through the American Institute of Chemical Engineering (AIChE).

There, he had the opportunity to meet with Washington bigwigs and learn about the political side of the research he has been involved with in the lab. Horelik was one of three AIChE interns selected for the WISE program, and one of only 11 total WISE participants.

"There are two goals of the internship," he says. "One is to write a 50-page policy argument paper. The other one, and this is more important, is just to learn the system-learn how Congress works, how bills are written, and how science and technology get injected into how bills are written."

During his internship Horelik focused on the intersection of public policy and the biofuel industry, which holds a special interest since he would like to work one day in the field of cleaner fuel technology. He presented his findings, entitled "Biofuels in the United States Transportation Sector: Public Policy and Its Effects on the Industry," to a group assembled in the House Science Committee Room, according to a report in his hometown paper, the Northborough Community Advocate.

Horelik's research explored the effect of the oxygen requirements for fuel in the 1990 amendments to the EPA's Clean Air Act on ethanol production in the U.S., according to the newspaper. In his findings, he recommended developing an economical method to produce cellulosic ethanol, derived from agricultural wastes, for use in biofuel.

While in D.C., Horelik also made the rounds of many governmental offices and agencies, meeting with several scientists and legislative officials to get a sense of the interplay between research and policy in the nation's capitol.

"We would meet with a lot of lobbyists, a lot of whom were former engineers for Exxon/Mobil and now are lobbyists," recalls Horelik. "They would always try to tell us, 'Lobbying gets such a bad name, but we're not evil. There are some evil guys out there, but we're not.' They'd tell us what they do and I thought it was very interesting."

His summer internship even had some unexpected results, sparking a new interest for Horelik in nuclear power.

"It really opened my eyes to nuclear. We met with one of the commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission... and he was talking about how there are nine new applications for nuclear power plants in this country. It just kind of made me think, maybe I want to do nuclear engineering."

The opportunities for an ambitious engineering student are clearly there, and Horelik has taken full advantage of the different ways students at Tufts can explore their interests. During the summer of 2007, Horelik participated in Tufts' Summer Scholars program, doing laboratory research with Assistant Professor Hyunmin Yi on bonding the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) to gold plates for uses in nanotechnology. He is planning his senior thesis around his work in Yi's lab.

"In the chemical engineering department, we're a very small class, and there are a lot of professors, so if you want research, you can find at least several professors who have openings. So it was very, very easy to find research, which helped a lot."

But Horelik is not content merely with building an impressive research résumé. He's preparing himself for wherever his career might take him, whether it's back to Washington or somewhere further afield.

"I want to go to China for a year," says the Chinese minor. "I'm told that the future of chemical engineering is in Asia."

Profile by Hayden Reich, (A'09).

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