Building a Laboratory from scratch
The UdeC Astrochemistry Group lead by Stefano Bovino, represents one of the few examples of transversal research groups
in Astrochemistry. The central work of the group is the development of realistic chemical models which can be employed
in expensive three-dimensional simulations of galaxy- and star-forming regions. The group developed over the years
a network of collaborators with the expertise to bridge the gap between theory and observations.
Chemistry is an essential ingredient for the understanding of star-forming regions, and it is a powerful tool to study the physics of these regions. For this reason the UdeC Astrochemistry group closely collaborate with Stefan Vogt's group (Chemistry Department, UdeC), an expert of ab-initio quantum methods. The group started an ambitious project to build the largest database of binding energies of molecules of astronomical interest on the surface of dust grains through accurate ab-initio calculations.
The theoretical chemistry part complements very well the theoretical and observational work on the astrophysical side. Since then, we thought to start working on one important missing ingredient: the laboratory work. Data (obtained theoretically from quantum ab-initio calculations or in laboratory through experiments) are indeed fundamental to build accurate chemical and physical models of astronomical environments. For this goal, starting a collaboration with Rodrigo Reeves at the Department of Astronomy was the most natural thing to do. Rodrigo has a broad knowledge of cryogenic system and vacuum, plus oustanding experience in mm/submm detectors. Together with Nico, now PhD student working full time on this project, we started in 2018 to talk about different possibilities to build an experiment able to perform temperature-programmed-desorption (TPD) and measure binding energies of molecules of interest in astronomy on different interstellar ices.
After having checked different possibilities and digged into literature to have a better idea of the current state-of-the art, the final idea came up in February 2019, in Innsbruck. During a conference, Stefano met Stephan Schlemmer (Cologne) and Roland Wester (Innsbruck), both experts in ion-trapping systems, and the final idea was planted. With subsequent fruitful discussions with Stephan, we set our goal: building a cryogenic ion-trap for astrochemical studies.
We started to design the first parts of the apparatus, and finally, thanks to an initial support from CATA/BASAL, we bought the first parts. This allowed us to start building the ion-trap and the first version of the experiment. We have split the experiment in three versions: (i) version 0.5, a simple ion-trap tested at ambient temperature, to study the basic functionality of the system, (ii) a version 1.0 with the trap inside a proper chamber, still at ambient temperature, without vacuum, but with a proper optical system, to measure the Q/M of the trapped particles with high accuracy. At this stage we will also start to test different injection systems, (iii) version 1.5, a high-vacuum chamber with the trap, the optical system, and an efficient injection system, and an additional electron gun.
Once this will be achieved, we will be ready to move the system from high-vacuum to ultrahigh-vacuum, and go cryogenic. This will open a completely new testing stage for us and will prepare us to the final system which will include additional instrumentation for diagnostic. The final goal, is to have a Cryogenic Ion Trap with a proper gas pipeline, and diagnostic, to perform TPD-like experiments and reactivity on different grain-surfaces. For this we would need a lot of patience, funds, and perserverance.
Check out the different sessions of the project to see how the different parts are developed.