RESEARCH TOPICS - Laboratory Astrophysics

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1. Gas phase astrochemistry (ISM/CSM and planetary atmospheres)
The atmosphere of planets depends on a large number of physico-chemical processes. Those processes include bi- and ter-molecular reactions between species and interactions with photons and cosmic-ray particles, which produce dissociations and ionizations. Those individual processes are studied by physico-chemists in the extreme conditions of astrophysical environments experimentally and by theory.

2. Spectroscopy of the ISM
The molecular geometry and quantum nature of both gas phase and solid state species in space is reflected in spectra that can be recorded under fully controlled conditions in a laboratory. Comparisons of astronomical and laboratory data allow to identify molecules in space, to derive abundances, local temperatures and to setup reaction networks.
Finally, the coupling of laboratory data in spectroscopy with large intelligent databases may strongly enhance the scientific output of spectroscopically dedicated instruments and observations such as those from Herschel and ALMA.

3. Spectroscopy in hot bodies (opacities)
The behaviour of atmospheres of hot bodies such as stars, brown dwarfs and exoplanets is heavily influenced by the spectroscopy of the species present. At elevated temperatures this spectroscopy becomes both rich and complex, placing great demands on the need for reliable laboratory data. Similar issues arise with other hot and active regions of the Universe.

4. Solid state / interstellar ice processes

Icy dust grains in space provide catalytic surfaces onto which molecules accrete, meet and react. Upon external triggers (thermal, UV light, atom, ion or electron impact) chemical reactions can take place, on the surface as well as in the bulk of the ice, providing pathways to complex molecule formation in space. Laboratory data are needed to spectroscopically classify astronomical observations and as quantitative input for astrochemical reaction networks involving gas and grains to predict abundances of species of astronomical interest, both in the solid state and upon evaporation, in the gas phase, for example in hot molecular cloud cores where complex molecules are detected but not accounted for by gas phase reactions only.

5. Stellar & planetary formation

The first stage of planet formation comprises low velocity collisions between protoplanetary dust particles. Due to a sufficiently strong van der Waals attraction between dust grains, dust aggregates can grow. As the protoplanetary dust aggregates become bigger, their collision velocities inncrease, leading to other processes, like bouncing, compaction, fragmentation, erosion, or mass transfer. Laboratory experiments are required to derive a complete picture of dust-aggregate interaction processes and to provide the basis for dust-growth simulations in protoplanetary disks.

6. Primitive & planetary materials
Primitive materials can be found mostly in meteorites, a class of which, carbonaceous meteorites contain high amounts of organic matter, soluble as well as insoluble. Micrometeorites are also invesyigated. The relationship between ISM (molecular clouds) chemistry chemistry and the chemistry of meteorites (organic as well as mineral) requires many analytical tools involving physics (e.g laser desorption and mass spectrometry), as well as chemistry (gas and liquid chromatography) and the use of comparison with laboratory analogues (e.g. dirty ices, silicates…). Planetary mayerials may also be considered in these laboratory studies where laboratory simulations are heavily involved.

7. High energy processes and space plasmas
Laboratory plasma experiment constitutes an important branch of the Laboratory Astrophysics. It includes experimental simulation and investigation of the processes in astrophysical objects and environments which cover a variety of phenomena including the extreme conditions and high energy processes in the stellar cores, supernova explosions, generation and propagation of electromagnetic radiations, as well as microscopic effects of space plasma particles interaction in the magnetospheres and interstellar medium. The results of these investigations, besides of a fundamental physics value, appear an important basis for understanding and interpretation of different astronomical observations as well as for the development of new instruments and execution of space missions. Experimental research is often supported by extensive computational
simulations which makes numerical modelling important for the laboratory
plasma astrophysics.

8. Stellar evolution and nuclear astrophysics

Nuclear astrophysics is a multidisciplinary area of physics aimed at understanding the origin of chemical species and the nuclear history ofthe universe. It involves theoretical astrophysicists who model stars, observational astronomers who determine chemical abundances using space-borne and ground-based facilities, and laboratory measurements of meteoritic grains, astrochemists who study how matter is associatedin space to form solids, as well as nuclear physicists, who provide knowledge on nuclear transmutations in stars based on theoretical and experimental grounds.

9. Astrophysical conditions for the emergence of life
Astrobiology is a very fast growing field, in part because the discovery of exoplanets offers a potential issue to understand if life is or is not widely distributed in the Galaxy. The field of prebiotic chemistry is important to help, in relation with observations of exoplanets, as well as a better understanding of the Primitive Earth, to help understand some key features toward the emergence of life as we know it on Earth.

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