Eric Herbst

Ph.D. in Chemistry, Harvard University, 1972

Our research program is directed towards an understanding of the chemistry of interstellar clouds. In these clouds, radio and infrared astronomers have detected the rotational and vibrational spectra of almost 100 different gas phase molecules, mainly organic in nature and ranging in size up to 13 atoms. About half of the molecules are standard stable species in the laboratory, but the other half consist of very unusual free radicals and molecular ions. We are interested in the types of chemical processes occurring in interstellar clouds which can synthesize the observed molecular species from precursor atoms. Since the clouds are typically very cold (a temperature of 10 K is normal), only reactions without activation energy can occur at appreciable rates. Using the chemical reactions we feel can occur we construct large models of interstellar clouds to simulate the chemistry and to calculate the expected concentrations of hundreds of different molecules. Our research program also involves the measurement and analysis of rotational spectra of likely interstellar molecules, both stable and transient, so that astronomers can search for these species in interstellar clouds. Many of these molecules are so-called internal rotors and possess complex spectra of great interest to chemists and physicists independent of their astronomical interest.

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