CORDIS - EU research results

A laboratory study of astronomically relevant large polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (GRAND-PAHs)

Project description

From carbon circles to carbon backbones, exploring the molecular diversity of our cosmos

Large polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) molecules, the most abundant complex molecules in the interstellar medium (ISM), are an important carrier of carbon. How they are formed and subsequently what other molecules arise from them are important questions relevant to the evolution of our universe and the formation of life. Recent evidence suggests that fullerenes, spherical molecules of pure carbon made from 60 or 70 carbon atoms, may form from photochemical processing of PAHs in the ISM. Here on Earth, PAHs form the building blocks of many other important organic molecules. The EU-funded GRAND-PAHs project will employ advanced experimental techniques in the laboratory to study the ionisation and fragmentation of PAHs. They could provide insight into the role of PAHs in the molecular diversity of the ISM and of life itself.


The research objective of this proposal is to use complimentary laboratory techniques to study the photo-ionization and photo-dissociation of large (>50 C-atoms) polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) molecules. These molecules are omnipresent in the interstellar medium (ISM) where they are irradiated and electronically excited by ultraviolet photons. This excitation causes PAHs to ionize and/or fragment, contributing substantially to the molecular complexity in space. The underlying chemical pathways are largely unexplored and recent studies show that PAHs play a key role in the formation of i) smaller organic species along a top-down scenario, ii) fullerenes and carbon cages and iii) graphene flakes, i.e. bare PAH skeletons that have not been observed in the ISM yet. These molecules will be studied with a rather unique, fully operational and mobile 'instrument for Photodynamics of PAHs' (i-POP) that is capable of studying the fragmentation of mass selected PAH cations. The mobility of i-POP allows its implementation at different light sources, which include Synchrotron SOLEIL (Saint Aubin - FR) and the free electron laser laboratory FELIX (Nijmegen - NL). The project is timely as its results will actively contribute to European excellence by producing laboratory data relevant to data interpretation from international multi-billion Euro research facilities such as The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The training objective is aligned along this research program. The existing expertise in physical chemistry will be extended to the emerging field of astrochemistry and unique knowledge will be obtained through research projects at Synchrotron SOLEIL and FELIX. A secondment is planned in the first year at FELIX to expand my experimental portfolio to include varied irradiation techniques including a free electron laser, to obtain complementary information about astronomically relevant chemical species.


Net EU contribution
€ 175 572,48
2311 EZ Leiden

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West-Nederland Zuid-Holland Agglomeratie Leiden en Bollenstreek
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 175 572,48