Radiation and thermal processing of ices and surfaces relevant to prebiotic chemistry in the solar system and interstellar regions
Dawley, Margaret Michele
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This dissertation has investigated the adsorption, thermal behavior, and radiation (both photon and electron) processing of prebiotically-relevant ices and surfaces. A custom ultra-high vacuum (UHV) chamber has been built that is coupled with a Fourier Transform-Infrared (FT IR) spectrometer and a Temperature Programmed Desorption (TPD) system that utilizes Quadrupole Mass Spectrometry (QMS) to study selected organic:surface systems. Formamide (HCONH₂) has been studied in two related but distinct studies relevant to primitive Earth and interstellar chemistry. First, in collaboration with a theory group, formamide’s interaction with kaolinite (Al6Si6O36H30), a clay mineral relevant to early Earth chemistry, has been studied experimentally and theoretically. Experimental infrared results are compared with calculated infrared frequencies obtained by our collaborators. TPD analysis is compared with the calculated values of adsorption energy, and the optimal kaolinite termination site for adsorption is reported. Second, the first thermal and radiation damage study of pure formamide and HCONH₂:H₂O mixed ices on an interstellar icy grain analog (SiO₂) is reported. A discussion of the pure formamide ice phases identified with FT-IR upon warm-up, as well as the TPD binding energies of HCONH₂ on SiO₂, is presented. The observed Lyman-alpha photochemical products and proposed formation mechanisms from pure formamide ice is reported and discussed. In addition, results of Lyman alpha processing of mixed HCONH₂:H₂O ices are provided. Low-energy electron irradiation of pure HCONH₂ and HCONH₂:H₂O mixed ices has also been reported for the first time. A third investigation has studied acetylene (C₂D₂) and acetonitrile (CH₃CN) interactions and radiation stability in mixed low-temperature ices to simulate possible prebiotic reactions that may occur on Saturn’s moon, Titan. This investigation contributes to understanding the possible consumption, trapping, and degradation of these species on the surface of Titan.