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Astrochemistry at the Open University

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. 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 key 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.

Qualifications available:

PhD or MPhil


For detailed information on current fees visit Fees and funding.

Entry requirements:

Minimum 2:1 (or equivalent)

Potential research projects

We welcome enquiries from prospective students in the following areas:


  • Studies of Ice-Gas Chemistry under Interstellar Conditions, including using parabolic flights to perform experiments under microgravity
  • Studying the Fundamental Structure of the Bulk & Surface of Interstellar Ice 
  • IR and VUV Spectroscopy of Interstellar and Planetary ices 
  • Ion molecule chemistry in the interstellar medium and planetary atmospheres 
  • Planetary atmosphere chemistry (with emphasis on Mars, Titan and exoplanets) 


  • Ices, PAH and Dust to High Redshift: Tracing the origins of interstellar chemistry 
  • Gas-Ice Mapping of Star-Forming Regions: A view towards JWST 
  • Evolution and Formation of organic material in space 


  • Studying the Structures of Interstellar Ices: a Molecular Dynamics approach 

Please also see further opportunities.

Current/recent research projects

  • Laboratory investigation of molecule formation in the ISM and on planetary surfaces 
  • VUV, IR and THZ IR Spectroscopy of Interstellar and Planetary ices 
  • Anion formation and dissociation dynamics of astrochemically relevant molecules 
  • The effects of dust size, morphology and porosity on Interstellar Chemistry
  • Mapping Interstellar Ice and Gas on 1000 AU Scales 
  • The Structure and Behaviour of Amorphous Solid Water: A Molecular Dynamics Study 
  • Collision Induced Chemistry and Aggregation of Icy Dust Particles 
  • Evolution of carbonaceous dust in circumstellar environments.

Potential supervisors

Further information

If you have an enquiry specific to this research area please contact:

Administrative support
+44 (0)1908 858253

For general enquiries please contact the Research Degrees Team via the link under 'Your Questions' on the right of the page.