The Öberg Astrochemistry Group


I joined the Harvard faculty as an assistant professor in 2013. In the Astrochemistry group we explore the origins of chemical complexity in space and how these processes affect star and planet formation and especially the bulk and organic compositions of young planets.

We also investigate the inverse processes, i.e. how the chemistry is affected by different astrophysical processes and how spatially and spectrally resolved observations of molecular lines can be used to probe star and planet formation. The research comprises laboratory experiments, aimed at simulating the chemistry and physics of interstellar grain mantles, radio and infrared observations (often at high spatial resolution), and astrochemical theory.



April 8 2015: First complex molecule detected in a protoplanetary disk! Check out the Nature paper reporting the results, the accompanying News and Views, the NRAO  press release, and some media coverage here, here and here (på svenska). (Image credit Bill Saxton /NSF /AUI /NRAO)

December 11 2014: Ryan wins the poster prize at Revolution in astronomy with ALMA, Tokyo.

December 10 2014: Welcome Jenny Bergner to the astrochemistry group!

October 15 2014: Karin Öberg is awarded a Packard Fellowship.

September 25 2014: Dawn Graninger and Karin Öberg co-author Science publication (led by Ilse Cleeves, University of Michigan) on the ancient origin of water in protoplanetary disks. Swedish news coverage here. (Image credit Bill Saxton/NSF/AUI/NRAO)

September 1 2014: Welcome Ana-Maria Piso and Jane Huang to the astrochemistry group!

July 1 2014: Karin Öberg receives a Simon’s Collaboration on the Origins of Life Investigator Award.

Feb 18 2014: Karin Öberg is named a 2014 Alfred P. Sloan Fellow in Physics.

Dec 2013: Dr Edith Fayolle wins a Rubicon fellowship from the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) to join the Astrochemistry group for two years to study the chemistry and desorption of interstellar ices.

July 18 2013: First images of snowfall in a Solar Nebula analog. Check out the press release and Science paper. [Image credits: B. Saxton/A. Angelich NRAO/AUI/NSF, and K. Öberg]


Science in focus:

Complex organics around solar-type protostars


Complex organic molecules such as methyl cyanide (CH3CN) are proposed to be important for the origins of life. They are known from previous studies to exist toward some low-mass (solar-type) protostars, but typical abundances and the degree of source-to-source variation have remained poorly understood. We have begun a survey of complex organics toward solar-type protostars using the IRAM 30m Telescope to address these questions. The results from the first six targets are presented here.

In summary we detect multiple complex organics toward two of the targets and tentatively toward a third. The abundances are quite high (1-10% compared to the commonly seen CH3OH). When combined with previous observations of CH3CN, HCOOCH3, CH3OCH3, and CH3CHO, we find that more than 50% of solar-type protostars observed so far contain complex organics. Moderate abundances of COMs thus appear common during the early stages of solar-type star formation, removing one potential obstacle for the prebiotic chemistry proposed to precede origins of life.