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 left in 2012 to join the University of Virginia chemistry department. In 2013 she returned to Harvard as an assistant professor in astronomy, 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, Research Associate

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.


Postdoctoral Fellows:


Romane Le Gal

Dr. Romane Le Gal

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. In particular, she is interested in figuring out how much of the prestellar molecular composition survives this journey, and therefore how much of the chemical complexity seen at the early stages of star formation influences the chemistry of nascent planets ; and conversely, how much are the gas and solid-state molecules reprocessed during star and planet formation.



RafaDr. Rafael Martin Domenech

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.



PavloDr. Pavlo Maksyutenko

Dr. Maksyutenko got his PhD in physical chemistry at EPFL, Switzerland. He conducted research previously at the University of Hawaii and at Paul Scherrer Institute, Switzerland. Pavlo is interested in applications of laser spectroscopy and mass spectrometry to molecular kinetics and dynamics. He is currently building a scientific apparatus for the laboratory study of the chemical and physical processes on the grain surfaces in the interstellar environments. 




Graduate Students:


Jane Huang (NSF/Peirce fellow)

Jane Jane Huanguses high angular resolution ALMA observations to study the chemical and dynamical evolution of protoplanetary disks and to search for indirect signatures of planet formation.  ADS publications. 


Charles Law

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.Alexia headshot



Alexia Simon

Alexia headshotAlexia uses laboratory experiments to better understand diffusion and entrapment in interstellar ices.



Ellen Price (NSF/Peirce fellow)

Ellen Ellen Price has a background in exoplanet theory. In the astrochemistry group she is exploring interactions between chemistry and dynamics protoplanetary disks.


Jamila Pegues (NSF fellow)

JamilaJamila Pegues is interested in astrochemical theory and the connected between observations and theory of protoplanetary disks.



Undergraduate and Visiting Students:  

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.

Joseph Cavanaro (Harvard University):  Joe Cavanaro is an undergraduate at Harvard.  In the astrochemistry group he is using ALMA data to explore deuterium chemistry in the TW Hya disk.

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.

Devin Sullivan (Harvard University): Devin Sullivan is an undergraduate at Harvard.  In the astrochemistry group he works on ALMA observations of organic chemistry in disks.

Jamie Weisenberg (Harvard University): Jamie Weisenberg is an undergraduate at Harvard.  In the astrochemistry group she works on the composition of icy grain mantles in analogs to the protosun and presolar nebula using models and observations.

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.

Former Group Members:

Jodi Balfe was an undergraduate at Harvard College.  Jodi Balfe did her senior thesis on the relative binding energies of N2 and CO on different water ices (2013-2015). The thesis was awarded with both the Goldberg Prize (best astronomy thesis) and the Hoopes prize (awarded by the College).

Aida Behmard 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 now a graduate student at Caltech.  

Dr. Jennifer Bergner was a Harvard graduate student in the Öberg group whose research focused on the physics and chemistry of interstellar ice analogs. She will start a Hubble Sagan post doctoral fellowship at University of Chicago the fall of 2019.

Madison Brady (Caltech):  Madion Brady is a graduate student at Caltech. In the astrochemistry group she is working with Dr Le Gal to model cyanides in PDRs.

Christina Buffo (Wellesley College): Christina Buffo is an undergraduate student at Wellesley.  In the astrochemistry group she is exploring the origins of cometary molecular oxygen using laboratory experiments. More on Christina.

Jyoti Campbell 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".  

Lauren Chambers was a visiting undergraduate at Yale.  Ms. Chambers worked with Ilse Cleeves and Karin Öberg on the theory of NH3 formation in protoplanetary disks. She is a Banneker Institute alumna (2016).

Dr. L. Ilsedore (Ilse) Cleeves was a Hubble fellow in the Öberg group.  Dr. Cleeves is a graduate of University of Michigan. Her research focused on understanding the molecular and physical origins of planetary systems such as our own, using a combination of theoretical and observational tools.  By using clues from interstellar molecular emission, she studied young planetary systems in formation around low-mass stars, i.e. protoplanetary disks: the very materials from which planets, comets, and other solar system bodies eventually form. Dr. Cleees is now an Assistant Professor of Astronomy jointly appointed in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Virginia.

Dr. Ilsa Cooke was a University of Virginia graduate student in the Öberg group.  Dr. Ilsa Cooke studied the dynamics, chemistry and spectroscopy of interstellar ice analogs using laboratory ice experiments at UVa and Harvard. Her advisor at UVa was Prof. Eric Herbst.  Dr. Cooke is now a postdoc at the Institut de Physique de Rennes.

Dr. Edith Fayolle was a Rubicon fellow in the Öberg group.  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. She is also interested in astrochemical observations of ice chemistry and ice desorption products in different interstellar regions.  Dr. Fayolle is now a Postdoc at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory studying Outer Solar System spectroscopy of radicals in ices and spores survivability under Europa conditions.

Dr. Dawn Graninger 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 a Postdoc at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Dr. Viviana Guzman was a postdoc in the Öberg group.  Dr. Guzman obtained her Ph.D. in Grenoble. At the CfA she studied the distributions of small organics in protoplanetary disks, focusing on cyanides. She is now a postdoc at the JAO with John Carpenter.

Corey Husic was an undergraduate at Harvard University.  Corey Husic 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)

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.

Tom Leith was an undergraduate at Harvard College.  Tom Leith used SMA millimeter observations of a massive young stellar object to identify organic molecules and their distributions (2014). 

Dr. Ryan Loomis 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 is now a Jansky Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

Chris Merchantz was an undergraduate student at Harvard University.  Chris Merchantz worked on theory of how snowlines evolve in protoplanetary disks due to an evolving chemistry. His senior thesis was to characterize the H2CO emission morphology in the TW Hya disk (2014-2016). Chris is a graduate student at U. Mich. 

Isabelle Muise (Caltech): Isabelle is a graduate student at Caltech.  In the astrochemistry group she works on the entrapment of volatiles in CO2 ice.

Pooneh Nazari (University of St. Andrews): Pooneh Nazari is an undergraduate at the University of St. Andrews.  In the astrochemistry group she uses SMA data to investigate the distribution of complex organic molecules around high mass young stellar objects.

Zoe Peeler 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) 

Dr. Ana-Maria Piso was a postdoc 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 (2016). She is now a postdoctoral scholar with Hilke Schlicting at UCLA.

Katherine Shulenberger 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 graduate student at MIT.

William Waalkes 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)

Ashley Walker was a visiting undergraduate from Chicago State University (CSU) and a Banneker student in 2017. Ashley worked with Prof. Öberg and Ilse Cleeves on modeling NH3 in protoplanetary disks.

Salma Walker was a visiting undergraduate from California State University, Northridge and a Banneker student in 2018. Salma worked with Prof. Öberg and Jenny Bergner on analyzing IRAM 30m observations of phosphor-containing molecules towards a low-mass protostar.

Olivia Wilkins 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).

Rui Xu was a visiting undergraduate from Peking University.  Rui Xu worked on developing a reduced chemical network for protoplanetary disks (2014-2015). He is now a graduate student at Princeton.