I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Physics in my home city - Bangalore, India under the INSPIRE Scholarship. My Master’s thesis focused on a peculiar type of star that have little or no hydrogen in their atmospheres. After that, I spent several months as a visiting student at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, India during which I became interested in the interdisciplinary field of Astrochemistry. My work there focused on using HF abundance to trace H_2 abundance in certain regions of the ISM.
I joined the Surface Dynamics group at AU in September 2017 as an early stage researcher (ESR) under the Marie-Sklodowska Curie ITN, funded under Horizon 2020 – ‘’EUROPAH’’. For my doctoral research, I used surface science techniques to study the interaction of a variety of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons with hydrogen atoms leading to small molecule formation. I was especially interested in the effect of the shape, functionalization and size of the PAHs on their interaction with H atoms. During my PhD, I have had the opportunity to learn and use Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy, X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy and Temperature Programmed Desorption with Mass Spectrometry. Being a part of the EUROPAH ITN opened up collaborations with other ESRs from across Europe. In addition to a theory collaboration with Prof. Xander Tielens’ group at Leiden University, I spent some time at the FELIX Laboratory with Prof. Jos Oomens’ group obtaining gas phase IR spectra of the PAHs I had studied at SDL. I will defend my thesis in the fall 2020.
When I am not in the lab, I am either cooking, reading or on the hunt for good cake. You can read about my adventures on my blog https://avial7.wordpress.com/blog/.
A wide variety of molecules made up of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen have been detected in the interstellar medium so far and they are similar to the molecules that are crucial for life, as we know it here on earth.
There is strong evidence for the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the interstellar medium though no single molecule has been identified unambiguously. In the ISM, PAHs with nitrogen substitution (similar to the nucleobases in our DNA) or oxygen functionalisation (similar to the molecules that make up membranes) could provide clues to the origins of life on earth and possibly elsewhere.
The interaction of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons with other constituents of the interstellar medium – atoms, molecules, and radiation, will likely contribute to the rich chemistry of the Universe. Using a combination of surface science techniques, I am interested in investigating the role of surface reactions in interstellar chemistry especially focusing on pathways that lead to formation of prebiotic molecules.