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Astrochemistry of old stars: direct probing of unique chemical laboratories


The gas and dust in the interstellar medium (ISM) drive the chemical evolution of galaxies, the formation of stars and planets, and the synthesis of complex prebiotic molecules. The prime birth places for this interstellar material are the winds of evolved (super)giant stars. These winds are unique chemical laboratories, in which a large variety of gas and dust species radially expand away from the star.
Recent progress on the observations of these winds has been impressive thanks to Herschel and ALMA. The next challenge is to unravel the wealth of chemical information contained in these data. This is an ambitious task since (1) a plethora of physical and chemical processes interact in a complex way, (2) laboratory data to interpret these interactions are lacking, and (3) theoretical tools to analyse the data do not meet current needs.
To boost the knowledge of the physics and chemistry characterizing these winds, I propose a world-leading multi-disciplinary project combining (1) high-quality data, (2) novel theoretical wind models, and (3) targeted laboratory experiments. The aim is to pinpoint the dominant chemical pathways, unravel the transition from gas-phase to dust species, elucidate the role of clumps on the overall wind structure, and study the reciprocal effect between various dynamical and chemical phenomena.
Now is the right time for this ambitious project thanks to the availability of (1) high-quality multi-wavelength data, including ALMA and Herschel data of the PI, (2) supercomputers enabling a homogeneous analysis of the data using sophisticated theoretical wind models, and (3) novel laboratory equipment to measure the gas-phase reaction rates of key species.
This project will have far-reaching impact on (1) the field of evolved stars, (2) the understanding of the chemical lifecycle of the ISM, (3) chemical studies of dynamically more complex systems, such as exoplanets, protostars, supernovae etc., and (4) it will guide new instrument development.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 665 998,10
3000 Leuven

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Vlaams Gewest Prov. Vlaams-Brabant Arr. Leuven
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 665 998,10

Beneficiaries (2)