Look up at the sky on a dark, clear night and you’ll see evidence of the stuff out there: stars and planets in our galaxy and beyond.  What’s it all made of? Are there different atoms and molecules out there than we have here on Earth? Or are they similar? Until the early 20th century, scientists did not know that molecules existed beyond our planet.

Astrochemists combine their understanding of astronomy and chemistry as well as geology and biology to find answers to questions about outer space. Physical Chemist Christopher Arumainayagam and his students at Wellesley College “create a little bit of heaven on Earth so we can recreate the very low pressures of the interstellar medium.” In other words, they create conditions in their lab that are similar to conditions in outer space and use those conditions to see how subatomic particles, atoms, and molecules behave far, far away from that lab.