People

Dr. Karin Öberg

obergKarin Öberg is Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University. Her specialty is astrochemistry and her research aims to uncover how chemical processes affect the outcome of planet formation, especially the chemical habitability of nascent planets. Her research group approaches this question through laboratory experiments, simulating the exotic chemistry that gives rise to chemical complexity in space, through astrochemical modeling, and through astronomical observations of molecules in planet-forming disks around young stars.

Dr. Öberg left Sweden for Caltech in 2001, where she matriculated with a B.Sc. in chemistry in 2005. Four years later she obtained a Ph.D. in astronomy, with a thesis focused on laboratory astrochemistry. In 2009 she moved to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics with a Hubble fellowship, focusing on millimeter observations of protoplanetary disks and joined the Harvard faculty as an assistant professor in astronomy in 2013, was promoted and named the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor in Astronomy in 2016, and promoted to full professor in 2017. Dr. Öberg’s research in astrochemistry has been recognized with a Sloan fellowship, a Packard fellowship and the Newton Lacy Pierce Award.
 
 

maheshDr. Mahesh Rajappan, Senior Research Scientist

 
Dr. Mahesh Rajappan is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India. He is an expert in a large set of experimental techniques relating to surface science, thin film manipulation and solid state physics.
 
In the Öberg Astrochemistry Group, Mahesh Rajappan leads the development of our new ultra high vacuum ice experiment and is responsible for the daily management of the laboratory.

 

Current Postdoctoral Fellows:

 

RafaDr. Rafael Martín Doménech

Dr. Martin Domenech is a graduate from the University of Malaga, Spain. He got his PhD at the Complutense University in Madrid, by means of his work in the Astrobiology Center studying the cycle of interstellar matter. His research focuses on the energetic processing of ice samples in the laboratory, mimicking the processing of interstellar ices in the coldest regions of the interstellar medium. His laboratory work is complemented with astronomical observations of molecules toward star forming regions.

 

 

Elettra headshotDr. Elettra Piacentino

Dr. Piacentino received her PhD in physical and analytical chemistry at Northern Illinois University. She previously worked on the computational and mass spectrometric study of the fundamental properties of transition metal-based molecules as well as on the development of novel mass spectrometers. Elettra is interested in studying the chemistry of the formation of prebiotic species in astrochemical ices with particular regard to phosphorous-bearing molecules.   

 

 

Diana Powell headshotDr. Diana Powell

Dr. Diana Powell is a NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Center for Astrophysics. She will be starting as a Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago in 2023. Dr. Powell studies the nature of extrasolar planets, how they form, and how they evolve. Dr. Powell's work spans a variety of topics, including protoplanetary disks, planet formation, and planetary atmospheres. Dr. Powell is particularly interested in using the detailed evolution of small particles to interpret observational data and understand planetary evolution.

 

Current Graduate Students:

 

Charles Law (NSF Fellow)

LawCharles Law's senior thesis was aimed at characterizing the carbon chain chemistry in an unbiased sample of Solar-type protostars and he is now exploring the nitrile chemistry in high-mass star-forming regions. https://claw-astro.github.io/Alexia headshot

 

 

Alexia Simon

Alexia headshotAlexia uses laboratory experiments to better understand diffusion and entrapment in interstellar ices. https://alexiasimon.github.io/Alexia-Simon-Astrochemistry/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marissa Maney

Maney headshotMarissa Maney combines instrumentation and laboratory experiments to explore the origins of chemical complexity in planetary bodies.

 

 

 

Carlos Muñoz-Romero

Carlos headshotCarlos is interested in the chemistry of early star formation and how it affects the initial composition of exoplanets.

 

 

 

Elizabeth (Liza) Yunerman

Yunerman headshot Liza Yunerman is a planet formation theorist, who is interested in modeling protoplanetary disk dynamics and relevant chemical processes.

Current Undergraduate and Visiting Students:  

Alex DelFranco (Amherst College): Alex DelFranco is an undergraduate at Amhest College.  In the astrochemistry group he investigates complex organic molecules (which are theorized to be precursors to extraterrestrial life).

Sarai Rankin (Morgan State University): Sarai Rankin is an undergraduate at Morgan State University.  In the astrochemistry group she studied the frequency of disks around Herbig Ae stars.

Former Group Members:

Former Postdoctoral Fellows

 

Dr. Romane Le Gal was a postdoc in the Öberg group (2017-2020). Dr. Le Gal is a graduate from University Grenoble-Alpes (France). Her research is focused on studying the chemical evolution of interstellar matter from prestellar environments through the protostellar stages to the formation of planetary systems. Dr. Le Gal is a Assistant Astronomer at IPAG and IRAM in Grenoble https://www.linkedin.com/in/romane-le-gal-65b5251b/
 
Dr. Pavlo Maksyutenko was a postdoc in the Öberg group (2017-2020). He got his PhD in physical chemistry at EPFL, Switzerland. Pavlo was interested in applications of laser spectroscopy and mass spectrometry to molecular kinetics and dynamics. He built a scientific apparatus for the laboratory study of the chemical and physical processes on the grain surfaces in the interstellar environments.
 
Dr. L. Ilsedore (Ilse) Cleeves was a Hubble fellow in the Öberg group (2015-2018). Dr. Cleeves is a graduate of University of Michigan. Her research focuses on understanding the molecular and physical origins of planetary systems such as our own, using a combination of theoretical and observational tools. Dr. Cleeves is now an Assistant Professor of Astronomy jointly appointed in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Virginia.
 
Dr. Edith Fayolle was a Rubicon fellow in the Öberg group (2013-2017). Dr. Fayolle is a graduate of Leiden Observatory. In the astrochemistry group she studied the desorption and reaction kinetics of ices, focused on non-thermal processes following exposure to radiation. Dr. Fayolle is now science staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
 
Dr. Viviana Guzman was a postdoc in the Öberg group (2013-2016). Dr. Guzman obtained her Ph.D. in Grenoble. In the astrochemistry group she studied the distributions of small organics in protoplanetary disks, focusing on cyanides. She is now faculty at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile.
 

Former Graduate Students

 

Dr. Jamila Pegues (Ph.D 2021) was an NSF fellow graduate student in the Öberg group. Jamila’s Ph.D. thesis explored Protoplanetary Disk Chemistry across the Stellar Spectrum. She will be a Space Telescope Science Institute Postdoctoral Fellow in Baltimore. https://www.jamilapegues.com/
 
Dr. Ellen Price (Ph.D 2021) was an NSF/Peirce fellow graduate student in the Öberg group, where she explored interactions between chemistry and dynamics in protoplanetary disks. Ellen won the 2021 Eric. R. Keto Prize in Theoretical Astrophysics and will take the 51 Pegasus b Fellowship to University of Chicago. https://emprice.org/
 
Dr. Jane Huang (Ph.D. 2020) was an NSF/Peirce fellow in the Andrews and Öberg groups. Jane used high angular resolution ALMA observations to study the chemical and dynamical evolution of protoplanetary disks and to search for indirect signatures of planet formation. Jane is a Sagan Fellow at the University of Michigan and 2020 Winner of the Robert L. Brown Outstanding Dissertation Award and the 2020 IAU PhD Prize. https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/jnhuang/
 
Dr. Jennifer Bergner (Ph.D. 2019) was a NSF fellow in the Öberg group whose research focused on the physics and chemistry of interstellar ice analogs. She was awarded a Hubble Sagan post doctoral fellowship at University of Chicago, and moved there in the fall of 2019. Dr. Bergner was also a 2019 IAU Prize Winner, the winner of the NRAO/AUI Robert L. Brown Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award, and the 2021 winner of the LAD Dissertation Prize. http://jbergner.com/
 
Dr. Ilsa Cooke (Ph.D 2018) was a University of Virginia graduate student who did much of her thesis in the Öberg group, while formally advised by Eric Herbst. Dr. Ilsa Cooke studied the dynamics, chemistry and spectroscopy of interstellar ice analogs using laboratory ice experiments at UVa and Harvard.  Dr. Cooke is now a Marie Curie postdoc at the Institut de Physique de Rennes and will be an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia in January 2022. https://irosec22.wixsite.com/ilsacooke
 
Dr. Ryan Loomis (Ph.D. 2018) was a Harvard graduate student in the Öberg group. Ryan Loomis’s research focused on the complex chemistry present during star and planet formation, and on how molecular emission in protoplanetary disks can be used to probe the underlying chemical and physical structures. Dr. Loomis was a Jansky Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and is now science staff at NRAO.
 
Dr. Dawn Graninger (Ph.D 2017) was a Harvard graduate student in the Öberg group. Dawn Graninger's research in the astrochemistry group combined astrochemical modeling with laboratory experiments and millimeter observations to constrain the chemistry of simple and complex organic molecules in space. Dr. Graninger is now at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. https://www.linkedin.com/in/dawn-graninger-5a458a77/
 
Dr. Ana-Maria Piso (Ph.D 2016) was a graduate student in the Öberg group. For her Ph.D. thesis Ana-Maria Piso explored the theory of planet formation in the context of disk physics and chemistry. She is now a Computer Project Manager at GMV in Romania. https://www.linkedin.com/in/ana-maria-piso-6611276/ .
 
Trish Lauck, M.Sc. (University of Virginia) Trish Lauck did her master thesis on diffusion in astrophysically relevant ices at University of Virginia 2012-2014.
 

Former Undergraduate and Visiting Students

 

Ananya Bansal (Harvard University): Ananya Bansal is an undergraduate at Harvard.  In the astrochemistry group she is exploring the sulfur chemistry in a sample of solar-like protostars using microwave observations.

Alessandra Canta (Harvard University): Alessandra Canta is an undergraduate at Harvard.  In the astrochemistry group she laboratory experiments simulating the thermal evolution of protostellar icy grain mantles. (2021)

Sage Crystian (Harvard University): Sage Crystian is an undergraduate at Harvard.  In the astrochemistry group he is using ALMA CO data to estimate the vertical structure of protoplanetary disks. (2021-2022)

McKenzie Lilygren (Harvard University): McKenzie Lilygren is an undergraduate at Harvard.  In the astrochemistry group she is working on measuring photodissociation efficiencies of molecules in analogs to cometary ices, using laboratory experiments. (2021)

Cara Pesciotta (Northeastern University): Cara Pesciotta is an undergraduate at Northeastern University. In the astrochemistry group she studies the entrapment of CO in thick H2O and CO2 ices by analyzing infrared and mass spectrometry data during temperature-programmed desorption. (2021 - 2022)

Tajana Schneiderman (MIT): Tajana Schneiderman is a graduate student at MIT in EAPS. In the astrochemistry group she works distributions of volatiles in protoplanetary disks and their relationship with Solar System abundances. (2021 - 2022)

 

Jamie Weisenberg (Harvard University) did her junior and senior theses in the astrochemistry group under the supervision of Andrew Burkhardt and Karin Öberg. Her senior thesis was on the composition of icy grain mantles in analogs to the protosun and presolar nebula using protostellar outflow observations. (2020) Jamie is an Analyst at Avascent in Washington D.C. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamie-weisenberg/
 
Sabine Zeitz (Technical University Munich): Sabine Zeitz is a graduate student at the Technical University Munich. In the astrochemistry group she works on laboratory ice experiments. (2019-2020)

Joseph Cavanaro (Harvard University) worked on ALMA data to explore deuterium chemistry in the TW Hya disk (2019). His work is presented in Öberg et al. 2021a.
 
Isabelle Muise (Caltech): Isabelle was an undergraduate student at Caltech. In the astrochemistry group she worked on the entrapment of volatiles in CO2 ice. (2019)
 
Devin Sullivan (Harvard University) worked on ALMA observations of HCN in disks (2019).
 
Salma Walker (California State University, Northridge) worked with Prof. Öberg and Jenny Bergner as a Banneker Institute Fellow on analyzing IRAM 30m observations of phosphor-containing molecules towards a low-mass protostar. Her work is presented in Bergner et al. 2019c .https://www.linkedin.com/in/salmacwalker/
 
Christina Buffo (Wellesley College): Christina Buffo was an undergraduate student at Wellesley. In the astrochemistry group she explored the origins of cometary molecular oxygen using laboratory experiments. Christina is now a graduate student in the Georgia Tech Astrobiology Graduate program. (2018-2019)
 
Madison Brady (Caltech): Madison Brady was an undergraduate student at Caltech. In the astrochemistry group she worked with Dr Le Gal to model cyanides in PDRs. She is now an NSF Graduate Research Fellow at The University of Chicago. (2018)
 
Jyoti Campbell (Wellesley College) was a visiting undergraduate from Wellesley College. In the astrochemistry group she worked on a project titled "Sublimation kinetics of complex organic molecules during planet formation". Jyoti is now a graduate student at The University of New South Wales. (2017) https://www.linkedin.com/in/jyotiscampbell/
 
Pooneh Nazari (University of St. Andrews): Pooneh Nazari was an undergraduate at the University of St. Andrews. In the astrochemistry group she used SMA data to investigate the distribution of complex organic molecules around high mass young stellar objects. She is now a graduate student at Leiden University. (2017) https://www.linkedin.com/in/pooneh-nazari-b38b0983/
 
Ashley Walker (Chicago State University) worked with Prof. Öberg and Ilse Cleeves on modeling NH3 in protoplanetary disks as a Banneker Institute Fellow (2017). Ashley is an incoming PhD student at Howard University. https://www.blackinastro.com/profiles/ashley-lindalia
 
Aida Behmard (Yale) was a visiting undergraduate from Yale. Aida Behmard used laboratory experiments to explore the sublimation properties of the small hydrocarbons that may regulate the organic chemistry in space. She was awarded an Origins of Life grant to pursue this study (2015-2016). She followed this as a student at the Princeton bridge program. Dr. Behmard is an NSF Fellow at Caltech. https://www.aidabehmard.com/
 
Lauren Chambers (Yale University) worked with Ilse Cleeves and Karin Öberg on the theory of NH3 formation in protoplanetary disks, first as Banneker Institute fellow, and later for her senior thesis. She is a Banneker Institute alumna (2016). Lauren is pursuing a PhD at the UC Berkeley School of Information to study data, technology, and sociopolitical advocacy. https://laurenmarietta.github.io/
 
Chris Merchantz (Harvard University) worked first on theory of how snowlines evolve in protoplanetary disks due to an evolving chemistry, and then did his senior thesis on the H2CO emission morphology in the TW Hya disk (2014-2016). His work is presented in Öberg et al. 2017. Chris is a Data Scientist at Tagup, Inc. https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopher-merchantz/
 
Zoe Peeler (Wellesley College) was a visiting undergraduate from Wellesley College. Zoe Peeler determined the role of ice mixture compositions for the CO binding energy, and thus sublimation temperature in astrophysical environments. She was awarded an Origins of Life grant to pursue this study. (2016)
 
Jodi Balfe (Harvard University) did her junior and senior theses in the astrochemistry group (2013-2015). Her senior thesis on the relative binding energies of N2 and CO on different water ices was awarded with both the Goldberg Prize (best astronomy thesis) and the Hoopes prize (awarded by the College). Her work is presented in Fayolle et al. 2016. Ms Balfe is currently an associate at Cinven.
 
Corey Husic (Harvard University) used high-spatial resolution observations from the SMA to constrain the spatial origins of observed complex organic molecules toward a pair of nearby Solar-type protostars (2015). Corey Husic is now a graduate student studying polymer mechanochemistry at Caltech.
 
William Waalkes (University of Michigan) was a visiting undergraduate from the University of Michigan. William Waalkes was working with Dr. Guzman to determine the relative importance of gas an grain surface chemistry for simple organics such as H2CO in the earliest stages of star formation. He was at Harvard on an REU grant and is now a graduate student at University of Colorado, Boulder. (2015) https://will-waalkes.github.io/
 
Rui Xu (Peking University) was a visiting undergraduate from Peking University. Rui Xu worked on developing a reduced chemical network for protoplanetary disks (2014-2015).  After graduating from Princeton, Rui is a Software Engineer at X, the moonshot factory. https://www.linkedin.com/in/rui-xu-ba2343157/
 
Tom Leith (Harvard University) used SMA millimeter observations of a massive young stellar object to identify organic molecules and their distributions (2014). Tom is now a Medical Student at University of Michigan Medical School. https://www.linkedin.com/in/thomas-leith/
 
Olivia Wilkins (Dickinson College) was a visiting undergraduate from Dickinson College. Olivia Wilkins did a summer research internship on the abundance patterns of carbon chains in a sample of low-mass protostars (2014). She continued as a Fulbright scholar in Cologne, Germany, and is now a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) where she studies complex organic molecules (COMs) in the interstellar medium (ISM). https://www.linkedin.com/in/ohwilkins/
 
Katherine Shulenberger (Wellesley College) was a visiting undergraduate from Wellesley College. Katherine Shulenberger did a summer research internship on CO diffusion in H2O ice (2013). She is now a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Colorado Boulder. https://www.linkedin.com/in/katherine-shulenberger-354693205/