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LABORATORY ASTROCHEMICAL SURFACE SCIENCE IN EUROPE

Final Report Summary - LASSIE (LABORATORY ASTROCHEMICAL SURFACE SCIENCE IN EUROPE)

From promoting the formation of small, Sun-like stars to seeding nascent planetary systems with the chemical potential for life, chemistry controls the evolution of the Cosmos! However, the dominant chemistries that are observed in the Universe contrast markedly with those common in laboratories and chemical plants on Earth. Low densities, often very low temperatures and often strong radiation fields ensure that chemical timescales are very long and result in the formation of many chemical species unique to these harsh environments. Observational astronomy has been probing these environments for decades – optical, radio, infrared and, most recently, mm-wavelength observations have revealed and continue to reveal a growing inventory of known astrochemical species. In parallel, astrophysicists have taken a wealth of laboratory knowledge of chemical reactions in astronomical environments and attempted to understand these observations. However, their attempts to do so have often been hampered by lack of key information; the crucial role played by the surfaces of dust grains and by icy solids on these grains is one such area. The Laboratory Astrochemical Surface Science in Europe (LASSIE; http://www.LASSIE-ITN.eu) network established in 2010 under Framework 7 (Project Number 238258) represents the first coordinated effort at European level to understand this crucial aspect of astrochemistry.

Since 2010, LASSIE has trained 34 young researchers in the young field of astrochemistry; combining the best of what the 13 academic and 6 industrial partners have to offer to prepare our young scientists for future career pathways not just in our discipline but throughout the technologically-based enterprises that support the economy of Europe. Our research activities have focussed on five themes; (i) the formation of grains, molecules and icy solids; (ii) physical processes in and on ices; (iii) chemical transformations of ices; (iv) modelling these processes and (v) linking everything back to observations. With the publication of more than 100 papers in leading international journals in astronomy, astrophysics, physics and chemistry, and a similar number of additional papers being prepared or already in the process of being published, we have addressed all of the goals we set ourselves for these themes. Solid state and surface astrochemistry as represented by the efforts of the LASSIE Network now has a much firmer foundation that before! Highlights of the work are really too numerous to mention but mapping of the water ice abundances of star forming regions using observations by the Japanese AKARI satellite by researchers from the Open University in the UK; studies on the synthesis and analysis of silicate and carbonaceous dust grains, and the impact of their surface morphology on the formation of molecular hydrogen (H2 – the most common molecule in the Universe) from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany and the Observatory of Paris in France; and laboratory observations of aggregation of icy particles (the first steps in planet formation) by the University of Munster in Germany are noteworthy.

Our training activities have combined local training in the host institutions with network-wide activities in both our science and in the range of relevant professional and personal skills our young researchers need for their future. From the outset, these activities included training and practice in engaging the public with our science focussed around our “Stars ‘r’ Us!” (http://www.stars-r-us.org) exhibit which featured in the European Science Foundation sponsored “Astrochemistry – The Cradle of Life” exhibition in the Natural History Museum in Brussels during International Year of Chemistry in 2011.

For a modest investment compared to the annual expenditure on observational astronomy, LASSIE has pushed European science to the forefront of a young discipline without which our wealth of observations might be no more than butterfly collections. We have produced a group of young scientists enthusiastic to go forth and use their skills in whatever direction they choose.