CORDIS - EU research results

Quantum Chemistry on Interstellar Grains

Project description

Dust particle surfaces collect a lot more than dust

Cosmic dust makes up a very small portion of the interstellar (IS) medium, yet it plays a very big role in the evolution of our universe. The sticky tar-like surfaces of dust grains are like tiny chemical factories, bringing together atoms that might otherwise not meet and catalysing reactions. Given their critical role in the molecular diversity of the universe, scientists have studied the chemical reactions on the surface of IS dust grains with astrophysical spectroscopy, lab experiments and mathematical models. The EU-funded QUANTUMGRAIN project plans to shed new light on dust grain chemistry, overcoming the limitations of current methodologies by exploiting state-of-the-art quantum chemistry simulations. Outcomes will answer important questions about the types of reactions favoured and why, and the role of the IS dust grain surface in facilitating them. Ultimately, simulations could elucidate a molecular description of the reactions themselves.


The Universe is molecularly rich, comprising from the simplest molecule (H2), to complex organic molecules (e.g. NH2CHO) and biomolecules (e.g. amino acids). The physical phases involved in a Solar-type planetary system formation go hand-in-hand with an increase in molecular complexity, which is ultimately connected with the origin of life. Interstellar (IS) grains play a key role in this chemical evolution as they provide surfaces where key chemical reactions occur. The IS grain chemistry is not fully understood yet. Spectroscopic astronomical observations combined with astrochemical modelling and laboratory experiments have dedicated great efforts to this end but they are still severally limited at reproducing, characterizing and, ultimately, understanding truly existing IS surface reactions. The QUANTUMGRAIN project aims to overcome such limitations by adopting a fourth approach: new state-of-the-art quantum chemistry simulations. These simulations will provide unique, unprecedented information at a molecular level (structures, energetics and dynamics) of the physico-chemical processes occurring in IS surface reactions, with the final objective to fully unveil the actual chemistry on IS grains. To achieve this objective QUANTUMGRAIN is based on three pillars: i) construction of realistic atom-based structural models for IS grains to characterize their structural, energetic and spectroscopic features, ii) molecular simulation of crucial “on-grain” reactions (formation of simple molecules, complex organic molecules and biomolecules) to disentangle the most favourable mechanisms, and iii) assessment of the actual role of IS grains in each reaction (catalyst? concentrator? third body?) to know why their presence is fundamental. My ambition is to have a complete, accurate molecular description of the different elementary physico-chemical steps involved in IS surface reactions, with the ultimate goal to definitely unveil in a comprehensive way the IS grain chemistry.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 890 731,25
08193 Cerdanyola Del Valles

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Este Cataluña Barcelona
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 890 731,25

Beneficiaries (1)