Airdate: May 19, 2008
Scientist: Lucy Ziurys
Science Diary: Chemistry - Collecting
Locating exotic chemicals in space can be an exciting, albeit painstaking, exercise.
Science Diary: Chemistry of Space Collecting Data
music; ambience: sound of telescope and instruments
We’re at the Arizona Radio Observatory on Kitt Peak, about an hour outside of Tucson. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Lucy Ziurys is a professor of Astronomy and Chemistry at the University of Arizona. She uses both fields in her research, studying the chemistry of space. Lucy creates exotic molecules in her laboratory, and then uses a radio telescope to look for them. Radio telescopes detect radio waves, rather than optical light.
“This may look like a huge satellite dish for TV reception, but it's somewhat more sophisticated. It’s a very, very accurate dish and it’s 12 meters in diameter, so you can imagine that it’s a bit of a complicated device to build and put together. You are constantly on the job when you're observing and so you sit here collecting data hour after hour. We often have to observe our source for days on end, in order to detect just one signal. And so, sometimes there are hours when it gets a little long and a little drawn out, but it's always worth it in the end when you get a nice spectrum of something, of some new molecule that's sitting out there halfway across the galaxy. And of course, this is coupled with what we do in the laboratory, and so it's a really great feeling when you've worked really hard in the laboratory, or your students or your post-docs or your research associates, you've measured this exciting spectrum of a possible new molecule, and then you come up to the telescope and maybe after a few months of work, you've got enough data to prove that that particular chemical is out in space. It's pretty exciting.”
Learning more about the composition of molecules found in space might help researchers to learn more about how elements here on Earth came to be.
Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation.