Credit: PHYS.org

Job Profile

Astrochemist

Astrochemistry is the study of the elements and chemical reactions naturally occurring in space. This concept of space chemistry aims to bring chemistry to space: to adapt or develop chemical processes, synthesis and technologies to be used for space applications.


What would you be doing?

Astrochemists typically design and execute experiments and use computer programmes to generate and analyse astronomical observations, test theories, and produce input data towards pre-existing models and ideas. The work covers chemistry, biochemistry, astrophysics, and data analysis through computer programming. One could develop new methods for collecting and analysing data to study astronomical objects at a molecular level. An example of this is studying and dissecting the chemical makeup of stars. 

What does a typical day involve? 

Most astrochemistry jobs are research-orientated within academia or research institutions. For example, one could work with radio telescopes to detect electromagnetic radiation given off from spectra. As the infrared, ultra-violet, and radio radiation is detected, the presence of specific substances and their abundance are established. 

What specific skills are needed?  

Astrochemistry involves a great deal of research, thus a curiosity and drive to research and solve problems is essential. One would need to interpret data and evaluate results while distinguishing what pieces of data are relevant. Thus, it is detailed oriented, which is a necessary skill to consider. It is a small, specific field of study, so most projects are carried out on an international level, so one should be willing to work and study abroad.  

What type of qualifications are needed?

It is a new interdisciplinary vocation in a growing industry. A background in chemistry, understanding in astronomical data collection, and analysis methods are required, and a Ph.D. within the subject matter is heavily recommended for most roles as it is a research orientated field,. It is important to have a cross disciplined understanding of geosciences, astrophysics, or biochemistry to collaborate with others. With a few years of postgraduate experience, one can gain more independence and greater budgets for their work. One can supervise research teams or manage programs. 

Where can I get some more information?

American Chemical Society 

https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en.html

Example introductory lecture

https://www.astro.princeton.edu/events/spitzer_lecture_series/Lecture1.pdf

NASA’s astrochemistry sector 

https://www.nasa.gov/content/core-capability-5-laboratory-astrophysics-and-astrochemistry

Author

Caroline Swenson

Caroline is an undergraduate studying Physics with a concentration in Aerospace and Journalism at the University of Notre Dame.

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