Astrochemistry is the study of molecules in space, and how their formation and destruction pathways and efficiencies depend on the local environment. From previous research it is known that the chemistry of many species depend strongly on e.g. temperature, radiation fields and timescales, which implies that molecules can be powerful probes of interstellar and circumstellar conditions. Chemistry in space is also an interesting topic in its own right because of the connection between the chemical evolution in space and prebiotic evolution on young planetesimals and planets. At UVa and NRAO we have a diverse astrochemistry program that includes experts at observations at different wavelengths, theory and laboratory experiments. Science projects range from the chemical evolution present during planet formation, to the chemistry of interstellar clouds and protostars; nearby, in the galactic center and even in other galaxies.
Faculty, scientists and staff involved in our group include:
- Professor Eric Herbst
- Assistant Professor Robin Garrod
- NRAO Astronomer Al Wootten
- NRAO Associate Scientist Tony Remijan
- Research Scientist Romane Le Gal
Recent Research Projects and Papers
We are carrying out several investigations on the chemistry of protoplanetary disks, focused on molecular millimeter spectroscopy as probes of the physical environment, and on the formation of organic molecules. Recently we used ALMA and SMA observations to show that there are multiple pathways to deuterium enhancements in disks, some which are active in only the outer disk, and some which are also present at elevated temperatures in the inner disk. This has implications for the interpretation of different deuterium ratios in the Solar System, including the Earth's seawater.
We have an ongoing theoretical program on how complex organic molecules are produced in different sources in the interstellar medium, from clouds to protoplanetary disks. It is our current idea that these molecules, though detected in the gas-phase by millimeter-wave telescopes, are mainly produced in dust particles, and then either evaporate during the warm phases of star formation, or are knocked off cold grains by photons or energetic particles. Recent results can be found here and here. [Image credit NASA/JPL - Caltech].