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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:University of Virginia Main Campus
  • Brooks H Pate
  • (434) 924-7219
Award Date:09/24/2008
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 1,500,001
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 1,512,646
  • FY 2009=$2,775
  • FY 2011=$9,870
  • FY 2008=$1,082,746
  • FY 2010=$417,255
Start Date:10/01/2008
End Date:09/30/2012
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.049
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:CCI Phase I: Center for Chemistry of the Universe
Federal Award ID Number:0847919
DUNS ID:065391526
Parent DUNS ID:065391526
Program Officer:
  • Katharine Covert
  • (703) 292-4950

Awardee Location

Street:P.O. BOX 400195
Awardee Cong. District:05

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:University of Virginia Main Campus
Street:P.O. BOX 400195
Cong. District:05

Abstract at Time of Award

This Phase I CCI will place chemistry at the center of research efforts to describe the molecular composition of the universe. The Center for Chemistry of the Universe will assemble a multi-institutional, multidisciplinary group of researchers to investigate and understand chemical processes in the interstellar medium. The chemistry occurring under the unique conditions of the interstellar medium produces the initial molecular starting materials for solar system formation. This chemistry, which produces a surprisingly rich set of common organic molecules along with more exotic reactive species, also supplies the molecules in meteorites and comets that may deliver the building blocks of life to young planets. Understanding this chemistry will require the development of high-speed broadband mm-wave spectrophotometers for chemical identification as well as new methods to probe chemical reactivity in cold gases and on surfaces. The Center will establish connections between fields such as combustion chemistry, atmospheric chemistry, and materials processing that share the theme of "chemistry under extreme conditions." The Center will provide a team-oriented, collaborative and multidisciplinary research environment for graduate student and postdoctoral researchers. Synergistic center activities capitalize on the broad appeal of the space sciences and include a summer undergraduate research program, a university-level general science course, new web materials for the general public and display materials for out-of-school time programs in science centers and museums. The Centers for Chemical Innovation (CCI) Program supports research centers that can address major, long-term fundamental chemical research challenges that have a high probability of both producing transformative research and leading to innovation. These Centers will attract broad scientific and public interest.

Publications Produced as a Result of this Research

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D. F. Plusquellic, F. J. Lovas, B. H. Pate, J. L. Neill, M. T. Muckle, and A. J. Remijan "Distinguishing tunneling pathways for two chiral conformer pairs of 1,3-propanediol from the microwave spectrum" Journal of Physical Chemistry A, v.113, 2009, p.12911.

M. Rajappan, C. Yuan and J.T. Yates, Jr. "Lyman-α Driven Molecule Formation on SiO2 Surfaces-Connection to Astrochemistry on Dust Grains in the Interstellar Medium" The Journal of Chemical Physics, v.134, 2011, p.064315. doi:doi:10.1063/1.3532089 

Daniel P. Zaleski, Justin L. Neill, Matt T. Muckle, Nathan A. Seifert, P. Brandon Carroll, Susanna L. Widicus Weaver, and Brooks H. Pate "A Ka-Band Chirped-Pulse Fourier Transform Microwave Spectrometer" J. Mol. Spectrosc., v.280, 2012, p.68.

Y.-S. J. Shiao, L. W. Looney, A. J. Remijan, L. E. Snyder, and D. N. Friedel "First Acetic Acid Survey With CARMA in Hot Molecular Cores" Astrophys. J., v.716, 2010, p.286.

G. R. Adande, D.T. Halfen, L. M. Ziurys, D. Quan, E. Herbst "Observation of the [HNCS]/[HSCN] Ratio in Sgr B2 and TMC-1: Evidence for Low-Temperature Gas-Phase Chemistry" Astrophys. J., v.725, 2010, p.561.

Justin L. Neill, Amanda L. Steber, Matt T. Muckle, Daniel P. Zaleski, Valerio Lattanzi, Silvia Spezzano, Douglas N. Friedel, Susanna L. Widicus Weaver, Anthony J. Remijan, Michael C. McCarthy and Brooks H. Pate "Spatial Distributions and Interstellar Reaction Processes" J. Phys. Chem. A, v.115, 2011, p.6472.

Justin L. Neill, Matt T. Muckle, Daniel P. Zaleski, Amanda L. Steber, Brooks H. Pate, Valerio Lattanzi, Silvia Spezzano, Michael C. McCarthy, and Anthony J. Remijan "Laboratory and interstellar detection of trans-methyl formate" Ap. J., v.755, 2012, p.153.

V. Wakelam, I. W. M. Smith, E. Herbst, J. Troe, W. Geppert, H. Linnartz, K. Oeberg, E. Roueff, M. Agundez, P. Pernot, H. M. Cuppen, J. C. Loison, & D. Talbi "Reaction Networks for Interstellar Chemical Modeling: Improvements and Challenges" Space Science Reviews, v., 2010, p..

G. E. Hassel, E. Herbst, and E. A. Bergin "Beyond the Pseudo-time-dependent Approach: Chemical Models of Dense Core Precursors" Astron. Astrophys, v.515, 2010, p.A66.

B.H. Pate "Taking the Pulse of Molecular Rotational Spectroscopy" Science, v.333, 2011, p.947.

D. E. Woon and E. Herbst "Quantum Chemical Predictions of the Properties of Known and Postulated Neutral Interstellar Molecules" . Astrophys. J. Suppl., v.185, 2009, p.273.

M. Rajappan, M. Büttner, C. Cox, and J. T. Yates, Jr. "Photochemical Decomposition of N2O by Lyman-α Radiation: Scientific Basis for a Chemical Actinometer" Journal of Physical Chemistry A, v.114, 2010, p.3443.

V. Wakelam, E. Herbst, J. Le Boulot, F. Hersant, F. Selsis, & S. Guilloteau "Sensitivity analyses of dense cloud chemical models" Astron. Astrophys., v.517, 2010, p.A21. doi:DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/200913856 

N. Harada, E. Herbst, and V. Wakelam "A New Network for Higher-Temperature Gas-Phase Chemistry. I. A Preliminary Study of Accretion Disks in Active Galactic Nuclei" Astrophys. J., v.721, 2010, p.1570.

J. C. Laas, R. T. Garrod, E. Herbst & S. L. Widicus Weaver "Contributions from Grain Surface and Gas Phase Chemistry to the Formation of Methyl Formate and Its Structural Isomers" The Astrophysical Journal, v.728, 2011, p.71.

A. A. von Prochazka, A. J. Remijan, D. S. Balser, R. S. I. Ryans, A. H. Marshall, F. R. Schwab, J. M. Hollis, P. R. Jewell, and F. J. Lovas "Detection of Voigt Spectral Line Profiles of Hydrogen Radio Recombination Lines toward Sagittarius B2(N)" Pub. Astr. Soc. Pac, v.122, 2010, p.354.

Brent J. Harris, Amanda L. Steber, and Brooks H. Pate "An Arbitrary Waveform Generator Based Chirped Pulse Fourier Transform Spectrometer Operating from 260-295 GHz" J. Mol. Spectrosc., v.280, 2012, p.3.

F. J. Lovas, D. F. Plusquellic, B. H. Pate, J. L. Neill, M. T. Muckle, and A. J. Remijan "Microwave spectrum of 1,2-propanediol" J. Mol. Spectrosc, v.257, 2009, p.82.

F. J. Lovas, D. F. Plusquellic, S. L. Widicus Weaver, B. A. McGuire, G. A. Blake "Organic compounds in the C3H6O3 family: Microwave spectrum of cis-cis-dimethyl carbonate" J. Mol. Spectrosc., v.264, 2010, p.10.

D. T. Halfen, L. M. Ziurys, S. Brünken, C. A. Gottlieb, M. C. McCarthy, and P. Thaddeus "Detection of a New Interstellar Molecule: Thiocyanic Acid HSCN" Astrophys. J., v.702, 2009, p.L124.

E. Herbst, E. Roueff, and D. Talbi "Radiative association and the formation of interstellar propylene" Mol. Phys., v., 2010, p.. doi:DOI: 10.1080/00268976.2010.494631 

N. Marcelino, S. Bruenken, J. Cernicharo, D. Quan, E. Roueff, E. Herbst, and P. Thaddeus "The Puzzling Behavior of HNCO Isomers in Molecular Clouds" Astron. Astrophys., v.516, 2010, p.A105.

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

The Center for Chemistry of the Universe (CCU) brought together scientists from the fields of chemistry and astronomy to explore new research and technology opportunities emerging from next-generation radio astronomy observatories like the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array.  Radio astronomy makes it possible to identify molecules in astronomical environments through their rotational spectroscopy signatures and, therefore, provides an interdisciplinary connection between chemistry and astronomy.  The new radio astronomy observatories have unprecedented capabilities for making high-resolution images of important astronomical environments like those where stars and planets are forming.  For the first time, chemists will be able to map the distribution of molecules in these environments to understand how chemistry emerges in the universe and to explore how the evolution of this chemistry towards complex organic molecules, the molecules essential to life, tracks the formation of new planets.  Because these astronomical environments have drastically different conditions than terrestrial, these new observations also provide chemists a way to explore novel chemical reaction mechanisms that broaden our understanding of chemical bond formation.


The basic research program of the CCU developed new tools for laboratory spectroscopy that will allow chemists to keep up the with the enormous data rates that the new observatories are just now generating.  By the end of 2013 there will be more radio astronomy observational data containing information about the chemical composition of the universe than was generated in the first 40 years of the field.  The CCU research team also pioneered new ways to analyze the high-resolution chemical images of astronomical environments that focused on extracting information about the chemical processes in star and planet forming regions.  The CCU research effort also developed experimental physical chemistry techniques designed to study the production of molecules under the unusual conditions of interstellar space.  A focus of this work was the extension of surface science technology to study reactions in ices.


The impressive capabilities of the next-generation radio astronomy observatories come from advances in solid-state devices for measuring terahertz (THz) radiation and high-speed digital electronics.  The CCU team led a commercialization program to bring the technology of radio astronomy to the field of analytical chemistry by developing a new measurement technology for trace gas detection.  Trace gas detection is an essential need in modern society and industry and impacts areas such as medical diagnostic tests, food safety, environmental monitoring, and national security.  CCU research produced two patents for new instrument designs and this work continues with the founding of a new company, BrightSpec, to commercialize this work.


The public outreach program of the CCU was a significant component of the overall program.  The goal of this group was to use the appeal of space sciences to introduce the public to fundamental concepts of chemistry.  The CCU worked with several general science to create feature articles about the role of chemistry in the formation of new planets and, possibly, for seeding these planets with the necessary ingredients for life.  The CCU work is continuing through a subsequent National Science Foundation (NSF) award to fund a CCU-designed project that will create a traveling public museum display that highlights the connection between chemistry and astronomy.  The CCU also hosted a summer undergraduate research program in collaboration with the VA-NC Alliance for Minority Participation (an NSF LSAMP program).  This program provided summer research opportunities to...

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