With the arrival of Assistant Professor Leah Dodson in September 2019, UMD’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry expanded in new directions. Dodson is a laboratory astrochemist, which means she studies the chemistry of interstellar space and the atmospheres around other planets.
“We think of space as being empty and cold,” Dodson said, “but there’s a lot of chemistry that occurs in space. There are regions around dying stars, for instance, where material is leaking into space. In these regions, the density is higher and the temperature is relatively warm, say 50 Kelvin (-370 F) as opposed to absolute zero. In these conditions, exotic molecules can start forming. As a gas-phase chemist and a bit of a space geek, it’s really exciting for me to explore the chemistry going on out there.”
Dodson’s explorations will occur in the lab as she emulates the conditions of space and studies the behavior of different materials. Her work will contribute to the rapidly evolving scientific understanding of which molecules exist in space and how they react with one another.