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Center for Chemistry of the Universe -- Phase I

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CCI Phase I: Center for Chemistry of the Universe  (University of Virginia Main Campus)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

The Center for Chemistry of the Universe (CCU) will allow scientists to explore new types of chemical reactions that occur under the extreme conditions of space. The center will combine laboratory experiments, theoretical studies, and radio-telescope observations to dramatically expand our understanding of the processes that build molecules that may "seed" young planets with the building blocks of life.

The CCU forges a unique research collaboration among leading scientists in the field of astrochemistry from the University of Arizona, The Ohio State University, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and a group of chemists and physicists at the University of Virginia engaged in research to understand the fundamentals of chemical reactions. The group of chemists participating in the center have discovered more than half of the new interstellar molecules identified worldwide in the past 18 months.

A central theme of chemistry is to understand how chemical reactions work. Most of the current knowledge of how molecules are formed came from laboratory experiments in solution. However, in interstellar space, reactions occur in gases and on surfaces, such as on tiny cosmic dust grains. The current effort is going to focus on studying these poorly-understood processes, and thus break chemistry out of Earth-bound constraints. The unique combination of experimentalists, theoreticians and radio-telescope observers working toward a common goal will allow quick feedback and testing of new ideas and better understanding of the type of chemistry present in these extreme environments.

The CCU also will pursue an extensive educational effort, including student programs, new courses at U.Va., and displays and outreach activities at the NRAO's Green Bank Science Center and other museums.

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