Astrochemistry is the study of molecules in space, how they form, where they form, and what role they play in shaping the formation and evolution of astrophysical systems, particularly in star and planet formation. The chemical interactions between atoms, ions, and molecules in both the gas and solid phase span from the coldest, darkest regions of space, known as the interstellar medium, through to the surface of planets, where such processes may be key in astrobiology – the study of the emergence of life. This subject therefore encompasses chemistry, physics and astronomy, as well as aspects of planetary science and biology. At the OU there are two thriving areas in this field, led by Professor Nigel Mason and Dr Helen Fraser, within the astronomy discipline at the OU. Research students in this field benefit from a wider community of the Physical Sciences at the OU and the South East Physics Network (SEPNet), ensuring rapid dissemination of their research findings to a very broad community. Astrochemistry is a valued part of OU research, bridging the astronomy group and planetary sciences groups.
Our research splits broadly into three areas: laboratory astrochemistry, i.e. experimental-based research, observational astrochemistry, i.e. fieldwork and computing-based research, and theoretical astrochemistry, which is computer-based and spans the range from theoretical chemistry to astrochemical modelling.