Karin Öberg, Ph.D.

Professor of Astronomy, Harvard University

SCOL Project: Exploring the Cosmic Origins of Chemical Complexity

Planet formation efficiencies and the likelihood that a young planet is enriched in water and organic molecules are key questions for the origins of life on Earth and its prevalence elsewhere. Both questions are intimately linked to the chemical evolution in star- and planet-forming regions, and therefore to the chemistry of the icy mantles that cover interstellar grains. Karin Öberg investigates the exotic chemical pathways prevalent in space and their effects on planetary compositions through a combination of astrochemical imaging, i.e. spatially and spectrally resolved astronomical observations, and laboratory experiments that simulate the physics and chemistry of interstellar ices. She uses these tools to explore the chemical diversity during star and planet formation, to develop new molecular probes of the planet forming process, and to quantify the fundamental ice processes that underpin the observed complex organic chemistry; all in the pursuit a our cosmic origins.

Karin Öberg holds a B.Sc. in chemistry from Caltech (2005) and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from Leiden University (2009), where her thesis work focused on laboratory simulations and astronomical observations of interstellar ice chemistry and dynamics. Following graduation Dr. Öberg was awarded a Hubble post-doctoral fellowship, which she brought to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. While there she used radioastronomical observations to map out molecular distributions in protoplanetary disks and protostars. In 2012, she moved to University of Virginia as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Astronomy, and in 2013 she joined the Harvard faculty as an assistant professor of astronomy. Since 2017 she is professor of astronomy at Harvard, where her group uses laboratory ice experiments, astronomical observations and theory to explore the processes that regulate the chemical evolution during star and planet formation, and the delivery of molecules to nascent planets. Prof. Öberg’s research has been recognized by a Sloan fellowship, a Packard fellowship and the Newton Lacy Pierce Award from the American Astronomical Society.

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