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Formation And Excitation of Astronomical Fullerenes


"The precise composition of the material that is injected into the Interstellar Medium (ISM) determines the physical properties of the local Universe, as well as the chemical pathways that lead to the formation of complex, organic molecules that can be incorporated into new stars and planetary systems. One of the most important families of organic molecules is fullerenes, large molecules of carbon atoms organized into hollow spheres or ellipsoids. Given their remarkable stability, fullerenes are ideally suited to survive the harsh conditions in the ISM, and as a result may be abundant and widespread in the Universe. Accordingly their detection is considered one of the priorities in the field of interstellar organic chemistry. I played a key role in the first unambiguous detection of fullerenes (C60 and C70) in space. Following our discovery of fullerenes in a young Planetary Nebula, they have now been detected in many other astronomical environments (e.g. post-AGBs, proto-PNe, PNe, reflection nebulae, HII regions, stars, YSOs), indicating that fullerenes form efficiently in many diverse regions. The major scientific challenge is now to understand their formation mechanisms, excitation, and role in the ISM, since this will provide clues to the key chemical pathways leading to larger organics and set their diagnostic value in the ISM. I will address this challenge through three key questions:

1. Are fullerenes thermally or stochastically (fluorescence) excited?
2. How do fullerenes form and what is their relationship with PAHs?
3. What are the local conditions required for fullerenes to form and flourish?

My original program builds on and is tailored to exploit my expertise in infrared spectroscopy of circumstellar and interstellar dust. It will make use of cutting-edge facilities like Spitzer, Herschel, Gemini, and VLT, and will involve a multidisciplinary approach that integrates observations, novel models for the dust formation, and experiments."

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Walton Hall
MK7 6AA Milton Keynes
United Kingdom
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 100 000
Administrative Contact
David Barfield (Mr.)