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NWO funding for new projects on chemical reactions in space

Date of news: 11 January 2017

Two research projects led by FELIX Laboratory scientists are to receive grants from the Astrochemistry Network (DAN) II, an initiative from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). A budget of 2 million Euros is available for the total of twelve projects.


DAN II funds projects in astrochemistry: a discipline which is an overlap between astronomy and chemistry. Astrochemists investigate, for example, the chemical reactions in the Universe, the formation of molecules and their role in the evolution of stars and galaxies. The FELIX scientists to receive DAN funding are Jos Oomens and Anouk Rijs. Herma Cuppen will in her project collaborate with Britta Redlich of the FELIX Laboratory. More information on the individual projects:

Jos Oomens

In this project, the free electron laser FELIX will be employed in combination with tandem mass spectrometry to investigate the spectroscopy and the breakdown chemistry of large PAHs: molecules that are observed throughout the Universe and provide clues on how matter is formed in interstellar space. To date, most experiments have been performed on relatively small PAHs, for practical reasons, although it is suggested that interstellar PAHs are typically larger (size range of ~50 carbon atoms). The recent availability of larger PAH species now allows the researchers to investigate the species that are most relevant for interstellar chemistry. The project is a collaboration between Jos Oomens and the group of Alexander Tielens (Leiden University).

Anouk Rijs

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are composed of multiple aromatic rings of only carbon and hydrogen, and are observed throughout the Universe. They are important for astronomers, as they provide clues on how matter is formed in interstellar space. However, not a single individual PAH has been identified in space up to this date, as the analysis of astronomical observations still rely on low-resolution laboratory data which can be imprecise. Anouk Rijs and Wybren Jan Buma (UvA) will use novel spectroscopic techniques to acquire high-resolution infrared spectra of PAHs, leading to understanding of their rich structural variability and photochemistry resulting in PAH models far superior than the ones currently employed.

Herma Cuppen – in collaboration with Britta Redlich

New telescopes like the Atacama Large Millimeter Array are expected to give scientists an unprecedented view of complex molecules and ices in various astrophysical environments. However, the analysis of these data will require much more elaborate models than have been developed so far. A crucial process in these models is the diffusion of reacting species, but only little data on diffusion rates are currently available. Herma Cuppen's group will apply computational techniques to study diffusion in the bulk of the ice and surface diffusion of reactive species. Both are technically challenging projects, in which she will collaborate with Britta Redlich at Radboud University’s FELIX Laboratory.