Astrochemistry 2018

Lecturer: Floris van der Tak


Astrochemistry is the study of molecular processes in space, with strong links to astrophysics and astrobiology. Chemical probes are essential to understand the formation of the first stars in the early universe, the origin of today's stars and planets, and the emergence of life on the early Earth. Vice versa, astrochemistry gives new insights into basic chemical processes, as the space between the stars provides us with conditions that cannot be reached in laboratories on Earth. This course teaches the concepts necessary to understand astrochemistry: gas-phase and grain surface reactions, and the importance of various chemical processes under different astrophysical conditions.


After following the course, the student will be able to:

  1. describe the various types of chemical reactions occurring in space;

  2. describe which type of reaction takes place under which conditions;

  3. describe the chemical composition of astrophysical objects;

  4. describe how the chemical composition of celestial objects may be used to infer their astrophysical properties.

These goals will be achieved at two levels: a theoretical level where the student can express insight, and a practical level where this insight is applied in calculations.

Books (only recommended, not required)

Physics and Chemistry of the Interstellar Medium, Sun Kwok, Cambridge 2007, ISBN 978-1-891389-46-7.

Astrochemistry: From Astronomy to Astrobiology, Andrew M. Shaw, Wiley 2006, ISBN 978-0-470-09137-1.

Astrophysics of the Interstellar Medium, Walter J. Maciel, Springer 2013, ISBN 978-1-4614-3766-6.


A background in atomic and molecular spectroscopy is essential; knowledge of Interstellar Medium (for astronomy students) or Molecular physics (for chemistry students) is helpful.


The course consists of 2x2 hours of lectures per week over a period of 4 weeks. For the evaluation, the students study a paper from a scientific journal, give a 30-minute presentation about it to the group, and answer questions about it. For extra credits, students may write an essay about one of the topics of the course.

Target audience

Advanced undergraduate (Master-level) and beginning graduate students with a chemistry and/or astronomy background.


The basic schedule is given on the Ocasys page; see the table below for details. All lectures are in room 257 of the Kapteynborg (5419). Thursday's lectures start at 15:00, and Friday's lectures at 11:00.





I. Basic chemical processes

Tielens 2013, Rev.Mod.Phys.


II. Gas-phase and grain surface reactions

Smith 2011 ARAA


III. Early Universe chemistry

Galli & Palla 2013 ARAA


IV. Diffuse interstellar clouds

Snow & McCall 2006 ARAA


V. Shock chemistry

Larsson et al 2012 Rep. Prog. Phys.


VI. Dense interstellar clouds

Bergin & Tafalla 2007 ARAA


VII. Star- and planet-forming regions

Herbst & van Dishoeck 2009 ARAA


VIII. Exoplanetary atmospheres and habitability

Crossfield 2015, PASA

Lineweaver & Chopra 2012, Ann. Rev. Earth Planet Sci.

Kaltenegger 2017, ARAA


Student presentations I

(topic TBD)


Student presentations II

(topic TBD)


Student presentations III

(topic TBD)


Student presentations IV

(topic TBD)

Datafile for Exercise 3


Floris van der Tak:

telephone (050) 363 8753

e-mail f.f.s.van.der.tak AT

office: 5419.0294 (Kapteynborg, second floor)