The composition of a forming planet is set by the composition of gas and solids which are accreted from the protoplanetary disk. Studying the chemistry of small, abundant volatile molecules in protoplanetary disks allows us to learn how key elements like C, N, and O may be incorporated into planets. We aim to answer questions like: what is the relationship between the C, N, and O chemistries in a disk environment? What physical conditions drive the formation of different types of molecules? And, how does the volatile chemistry evolve over the entire timescale of planet formation?
In cold interstellar regions, most volatiles condense onto dust grains to form icy mantles. Understanding the microphysics and chemistry of these astrophysical ices is of fundamental importance: not only are ices the major reservoir of volatiles in star-forming regions, but they are also the primary sites where organic molecules can form. Fortunately, we can recreate the extreme conditions (pressures ~10-13 atm and temperatures ~10 K) needed to explore the behaviors of ice-phase volatiles in the lab. Our research explores questions like: how is chemical complexity generated even in the coldest interstellar regions? And, how do ice microphysical properties impact volatile delivery to nascent planetesimals?
A key aim of astrochemistry is to understand the formation and inheritance of 'complex' (6+ atoms) organic molecules prior to the assembly of planets. We use powerful telescopes to detect emission from organic molecules originating in protostars and protoplanetary disks, allowing us to characterize how the chemistry plays out in different environments. We also use simulations of protoplanetary disk chemistry to explore how icy material can survive the chaotic journey from the interstellar medium to planetesimals. Through such observational and theoretical methods, we aim to understand how interstellar chemical complexity emerges and whether this material could seed young planets with building blocks for prebiotic chemistry.
Phosphorus carriers are rarely observed in the molecular interstellar medium, and therefore little is known about the phosphorus chemistry accompanying star and planet formation. Understanding the chemistry and inheritance of phosphorus prior to planet formation is especially important given the central role that phosphorus plays in terrestrial biochemistry. Using spatially resolved observations and demographic surveys of phosphorus carriers in low-mass protostars, we are exploring key questions like: in what form is phosphorus stored in prior to planetary assembly? And, how typical is the volatile phosphorus reservoir of the young solar system?