The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) has awarded a Vidi grant to Annemieke Petrignani, an experimental astrophysicist conducting experiments at the FELIX Laboratory. She receives a maximum of 800,000 euros to develop an innovative line of research and to set up her own research group.
At the heart of Annemieke's research are interstellar polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's) and their infrared emission behavior. Studying these PAH's is very relevant since they play an important role in the formation of stars and planets. They might even be linked to the origin of life on earth.
The current knowledge of interstellar PAH's is based on near infrared (NIR) emissions of many galaxies, combined with quantum chemical modelling. But because of the lack of data obtained in laboratory experiments, the determination of the precise molecular structure (especially for larger PAH molecules) has until now been rather speculative.
Astronomically sized molecules
Petrignani aims at changing this. She wants to provide a firm base for the determination of the extraterrestrial forms and formats of PAH's by measuring the infrared characteristics of astronomically sized PAHs (approximately 50-100 carbon atoms) in the FELIX Laboratory and Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences.
In particular she presents new approaches to identify the so-called low-lying vibrational modes of the molecules and characterise their anharmonic behaviour. The high-resolution laser facility in Amsterdam offers a novel approach to study the NIR vibrational bands of PAH neutrals in detail. The FELIX free-electron lasers provide a unique opportunity to measure large gas-phase PAH ions in both the near (NIR) and far (FIR) parts of the infrared spectrum.
The results can validate quantum chemical predictions, build an improved PAH database, and allow for interpretation of infrared spectra from space instruments such as HIFI. This will help to shape future missions searching for planet and star formation.