Our research group combines surface science experiments and radio astronomy to explore the chemistry that regulates the formation efficiencies and nascent compositions of planets, including their surface abundances of water and organics, i.e. their chemical habitability. Thanks to the arrival of new generation of microwave telescopes, especially ALMA, the chemistry in disks around young stars, where planet formation is currently taking place, is becoming accessible for study. We use these telescopes to characterize the disk volatiles planets form from. Recent discoveries include direct images of condensation fronts of major volatiles, and the first detection of a complex organic molecule in a protoplanetary disk. These studies are combined with high-precision laboratory experiments on water and organic ices to unravel the often-exotic chemistry that determines the observed volatile distributions around young stars.

In the News