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Molecules between the stars: from clouds to planets

Molecules between the stars: from clouds to planets is the 2023 Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson Lecture which is Imperial’s flagship Chemistry annual lecture.

The space between the stars is not empty but filled with a very dilute gas. In spite of the extremely low temperatures and densities, these clouds contain a surprisingly rich chemistry, as evidenced by the detection of more than 300 different molecules, from simple to complex and from gas to solid-state ices. These clouds are also the birthplaces of stars and planets. New powerful facilities such as the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) and the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) have found water and a surprisingly rich variety of organic materials near forming stars, including simple sugars, ethers and alcohols. How are these molecules formed in space? Which molecular processes play a role? How common are they and can they be delivered to new planets?

Molecules between the stars: from clouds to planets takes place online on Thu, 7 Dec 2023 17:30 – 18:30 GMT



Ewine F. van Dishoeck is Professor of Molecular Astrophysics at Leiden University, the Netherlands. She graduated at Leiden in 1984 and held positions at Harvard, Princeton and Caltech before returning to Leiden in 1990. The work of her group innovatively combines the world of chemistry with that of physics and astronomy to study the molecular trail from star-forming clouds to planet-forming disks. She has mentored several dozens of students and postdocs and has been heavily involved in planning new observational facilities such as the James Webb Space Telescope. She has been fortunate to receive many awards, including the 2000 Dutch Spinoza award and the 2018 Kavli Prize for Astrophysics. She is a Member or Foreign Associate of several academies, including that of the Netherlands, USA, Germany and Norway, as well as the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. From 2008-2021, she was the scientific director of the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA), and from 2018-2021, she served as the president of the International Astronomical Union.

Ewine also has a passion for outreach to the general public and a special interest in art and astronomy. In 2019, she co-curated an exhibition on “Cosmos: Art & Knowledge”, and in 2022 on “On the road to the beginning: Science and Art with Webb”.


Imperial College London

Imperial College London

Imperial College London is a world-class university with a mission to benefit society through excellence in science, engineering, medicine and business.


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