My research focuses on the chemistry in protostars and protoplanetary disks, the evolutionary progenitors of planetary systems. I am especially interested in elements that are fundamental to organic and prebiotic chemistry (e.g. C, N, O, P). Overall, my work is motivated by the question:
How do the physics and chemistry interact during star and planet formation to shape the inventories of organic material delivered to nascent planetary systems?
Evolution of C, N, and O chemistry in planet-forming disks
C2H, HCN, and C18O emission observed towards HD 163296.
The volatile chemistry in disks is expected to evolve over time, though this evolution is poorly constrained observationally. We performed a survey of C2H, HCN, and C18O (tracers of the C, N, and O chemistry) in a sample of disks spanning young embedded sources through evolved protoplanetary disks, offering a systematic view of the volatile chemical evolution in disks. Understanding such chemical evolution is an important step in predicting how the volatile composition of planet-forming material changes at different stages in the disk lifetime
Complex organics in protostars and protoplanetary disks
Low-mass protostars and solar system comets show close similarities in their organic compositions.
A key aim of astrochemistry is to understand the origin and inheritance of complex (6+ atoms) organic molecules throughout the star and planet formation sequence. I have performed observational surveys of complex organics towards protostellar envelopes, protostellar disks, and protoplanetary disks to help further our understanding of the types and abundances of organics present at different stages. Comparisons with comets, the most primitive objects in our solar system, reveal compositional similarities to protostellar material, suggestive of chemical inheritance from the earliest stages of star formation.
Experimental studies of ice-phase chemistry
Schematic of different microphysical processes that regulate ice chemistry.
Laboratory studies of ice chemistry offer insight into the energetics and mechanisms that drive chemistry in star-forming environments, a necessary complement to observational studies. My experimental work has focused on understanding (1) the formation of NH4 + salts, which may be important for sequestering nitrogen in comets, and (2) the chemistry of photo-produced oxygen atoms, which can react with hydrocarbons to form organics even at very low temperatures.
Phosphorus in protostars
The outflow of B1-a traced by SiO, where PN and PO were detected.
Phosphorus is a key bioelement on Earth, yet there are very few astronomical constraints on how it is inherited during the star formation sequence. We detected the phosphorus molecules PO and PN towards the low-mass protostar B1-a, just the second detection towards a Sun-like (low-mass) star forming region. The phosphorus carriers are emitting from a shocked outflow and have a very low gas-phase abundance, implying that most phosphorus is sequestered in dust grains.