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Lucy M. Ziurys

Regents Professor, Chemistry/Biochemistry and Astronomy

Degrees and Appointments

  • B.S. 1978, Rice University
  • Ph.D. 1984, UC Berkeley

Awards and Honors

  • Legacy Fellow of the American Astronomical Society, elected 2020
  • Albert Einstein Medal, EHT co-recipient, 2020
  • Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, EHT co-recipient, 2020
  • Promoted to Regents Professor, University of Arizona, 2020
  • Laboratory Astrophysics Prize, American Astronomical Society, 2019
  • Barbara Mez-Starck Prize in Molecular Spectroscopy, 2015
  • Elizabeth and Keith Hege Galileo Circle Fellow, 2011
  • Fellow of the American Physical Society, 2008
  • National Science Foundation Creativity Award, 2001
  • National Science Foundation Visiting Professorship for Women, 1994-1996
  • National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellow, 1992-1995
  • National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator, 1990-1992

At present, almost 200 different chemical species have been detected in interstellar space. These molecules are primarily found in giant gas clouds located throughout our Galaxy and other galaxies, in gaseous material ejected from old, dying stars, including planetary nebulae, and also in other unusual environments. Despite the extreme conditions of the so-called interstellar medium (ISM), which is typically quite cold (T ~ 10-50 K) and very diffuse (n ~ 10³ - 106 particles/cc), chemistry flourishes, producing many common, but sometimes exotic, compounds, including reactive radicals and molecular ions, ranging in size from simple diatomics like CO to complex species like C60. It is now recognized that we live in a molecular universe, and that interstellar molecular material is continuously recycled in the ISM. The molecular life cycle is shown in Figure 1. Molecules form in dying stars, and then are passed on through the planetary nebula stage and into the diffuse ISM. This matter subsequently collapses to form dense clouds, the sites of star and solar systems. The stars eventually die, and the cycle repeats. As solar systems form, some of the pristine molecular material from the nascent molecular cloud is delivered to young planet surfaces via comets, meteorites, and interplanetary dust particles. This material is thought to have influenced early prebiotic chemistry, thus tracing life's origins back to interstellar space.

Figure 1: The interstellar molecular life cycle, tracing molecular formation from the ejecta of dying stars into the diffuse, and then dense clouds, and subsequently into regions of star and solar system formation via the protoplanetary disk stage. Some of the pristine interstellar molecular matter is the delivered to planet surfaces via bombardment by comets, meterorites, and interplanetary dust particles.

The primary objective of research in the Ziurys group is to understand the molecular life cycle and study the chemistry occurring in the vast regions of space via an interdisciplinary approach that involves high resolution molecular spectroscopy in the laboratory and radio astronomical observations. The University of Arizona is unique in this regard as it has its own radio telescopes, operated by the Arizona Radio Observatory (ARO), which can be used for graduate research. Radio telescopes are used to measure rotational molecular spectra and identify new chemical compounds by their "fingerprint" signatures, which are known from laboratory measurements. We are interested in discovering what chemical compounds exist in space and in which types of interstellar sources, how they are formed, and how this impacts the origins of solar systems and planets, and ultimately life. As shown in Figure 2, many interstellar objects are have very dense and complicated radio spectra, illustrating the complexity of their chemistry. Displayed in this figure is a "spectrum" of the cloud Sagittarius B2N,  which is located near the center of our Galaxy. Over the wavelngth region 68 - 280 GHz, over 15,000 spectral lines are present, a large fraction which are unidentified. Possible carriers of these unidentified lines are smaller species containing metals such as iron, magnesium, and titanium (also significant for organometallic chemistry), organic molecules related to sugars and nucleic acids, and phosphorus-bearing compounds.

Figure 2: The millimeter-wave spectrum (68 - 280 GHz) of the molecular cloud Sagittarius B2N, showing over 15,000 individual spectral emission and absorption lines, many which are unidentfied. These data were obtained with the ARO telecopes.

Laboratory studies focus on the measurement of gas-phase rotational spectrum of species of astrophysical interest in the microwave, millimeter and THz regions of the electromagnetic spectrum (~3 GHz - 1.5 THz). This goal requires design and construction of our own spectrometer systems, as shown in Figure 3. Currently, there are four working instruments in the Ziurys group: two mm/sub-mm direct absorption systems, a velocity-modulation spectrometer specifically designed to study molecular ions, and a pulsed, Fourier transform microwave/mm-wave (FTMmmW) machine. Part of the laboratory work also concerns developing exotic synthetic techniques for creating these transient species in detectable concentrations including electrical discharges and laser ablation. We have succeeded in recording the spectra of a wide range of metal-bearing species, in particular radicals and, more recently, ions, such as AlC2, FeCN, FeCO+, CrCCH,  FeO+, and KO. Many of these species have unpaired electrons, and thus their spectra exhibit complex fine and hyperfine splittings (see Figure 4). Analysis of such data requires a detailed knowledge of quantum mechanics. Other investigations include possible pre-biotic species such as EtNH2 methylisocyanate and hydroxyacetone. The fingerprints measured in the laboratory enable such species to be identified in space.

Figure 3: Two of the spectrometers of the Ziurys group: Left: Fourier transform microwave/mm-wave system, with the laser ablation source. Right: Millimeter wave direct absorption spectrometer.

Figure 4 TOP: Laboratory Fourier transform microwave spectra of the AlC2 radical in its 2A1 electronic ground state, showing aluminum hyperfine components in NKa, Kc = 101 → 000 rotational transition (Halfen and Ziurys 2018). BOTTOM: Millimeter-wave direct absorption spectrum of the KO radical (X2Πi), displaying lambda-doublets of the J = 15.5 ← 14.5 transition in the Ω = 3/2 ladder (Burton et al. 2019).

Observational studies in the Ziurys group include the identification of new interstellar species, such as FeCN, AlO, AlOH, CCN, and PO, which is usually conducted in conjunction with laboratory work. The newest molecule found by the Ziurys Group is VO, which was identified in electronic spectra of the clumpy gas surrounding a hypergiant star, VY Canis Majoris. Other projects involve elucidating the chemistry associated with evolved, giant stars, such as NML Cygni, and that in planetary nebulae such as the Helix, the Dumbbell, and the Cotton Candy Nebulae (see Figure 5). Surprisingly, planetary nebulae have a rich chemistry and contain species such as CH3CN, CH3CCH, c-C3H2 and even C60. Observations are also currently being carried out to trace the history of carbon and phosphorus chemistry through the molecular life cycle, as shown in Figure 1, including that of C60 and other fullerenes.


Figure 5: Molecule sources VY CMa, a hypergiant star (LEFT) with lines from PN, SiS, and SO2, and Planetary Nebula M1-59 (RIGHT) with a line of HCO+.

Interstellar molecules are primarily studied using the telescopes of the Arizona Radio Observatory (ARO), as well as the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) and the IRAM 30 m. ARO operates the Submillimeter Telescope (SMT) on Mount Graham, AZ, and the new 12-meter (12m) Telescope at Kitt Peak (see Figure 6). The new 12m is built with the most advanced technology for radio telescopes.

Figure 6: The Submillimeter Telescope (SMT) of the Arizona Radio Observatory, located at Mt. Graham, AZ (left), and the new ALMA prototype 12-meter telescope at Kitt Peak (right).




PDF icon lmz_publications_6-2021.pdf

Recent Publications:

“The Mass Loss History of the Red Hypergiant VY CMa,” R.M. Humphreys, K. Davidson, A.M.S. Richards, L.M. Ziurys, T.J. Jones, and K. Ishibashi, A.J., 161, 98 (2021).

“Detection of PO in Orion-KL: Phosphorus Chemistry in the Plateau Outflow,” J.J. Bernal, L.A. Koelemay, and L.M. Ziurys, Ap.J., 906, 55 (2021).

“Carbon Isotope Ratios in Planetary Nebulae: The Unexpected Enhancement of 13C,” L.M. Ziurys, D.R. Schmidt, and N.J. Woolf, Ap.J. (Letters), 900, L31 (2020).

“The Structure of ScC2 (X̃2A1): A Combined Fourier Transform Microwave/Millimeter-wave Spectroscopy and Computational Study,” M.A. Burton, D.T. Halfen, H. Lane, Q. Cheng, N. J. DeYonker, and L.M. Ziurys, J. Chem. Phys., 153, 034304 (2020).

“Structure of the Model Grignard-Type Reagent ClZnCH3 (X̃1A1) by Millimeter-wave Spectroscopy,” M.A. Burton, N. Tabassum, and L.M. Ziurys, J. Mol. Spectrosc., 368, 111256 (2020).

“Millimeter/Sub-mm Spectroscopy of the CrBr Radical in the High Spin X6Σ+ State,” T.J. Herman, J.P. Keogh, and L.M. Ziurys, J. Chem. Phys., 151, 194301 (2019).

“Quadrupole Coupling Interactions in Alkali Metal Amides MNH2 (X1A1): An Experimental and Computational Study,” M.A. Burton, B. T. Russ, M. P. Bucchino,  P.M. Sheridan,  and L.M. Ziurys, J. Mol. Spectrosc., 365, 111211 (2019).

“The Ground State of KO Revisited: Millimeter and Submillimeter Spectrum of Potassium Oxide,” M.A. Burton, B.T. Russ, M.P. Bucchino, P.M. Sheridan, and L.M. Ziurys, PCCP, 21, 21960 (2019).

“Formation of Interstellar C60 From Silicon Carbide Circumstellar Grains,” J.J. Bernal, P. Haenecour, J. Howe, T.J. Zega, S. Amari and L.M. Ziurys, Ap.J.(Letters), 883, L43 (2019).

“The Unexpected Spectrum of the Innermost Ejecta of the Red Hypergiant VY CMa,” R.M. Humphreys, L.M. Ziurys, J.J. Bernal, M.S. Gordon, L.A. Helton, K. Ishibashi, T.J. Jones, A.M.S. Richards and W. Vlemmings, Ap.J.(Letters), 874, L26 (2019).

“Exotic Carbon Chemistry in a Planetary Nebula: The Unusual Case of K4-47,” D.R. Schmidt and L.M. Ziurys, Ap.J. (Letters), 881, L38 (2019).

“The Pure Rotational Spectrum of the ZnBr Radical (X2Σ+): Trends in the Zinc Halide Series,” M.A. Burton and L.M. Ziurys, J. Chem. Phys., 150, 034303 (2019).

“Interstellar Molecules and Their Prebiotic Potential,” L.M. Ziurys,The Handbook of Astrobiology, Ed. V. Kolb (Boca Raton: CRC Press), 147-163 (2019).

"Extreme 13C,15N,17O Isotopic Enrichment in the Young Planetary Nebula K4-47,” D.R. Schmidt, N.J. Woolf, T.J. Zega, and L.M. Ziurys, Nature, 564, 378 (2018). 

“Examining Metal-Phosphorus Bonds: Submillimeter Spectroscopy of the CrP Radical (X4Σ),” M.A. Burton, D.T. Halfen, and L.M. Ziurys, Chem.Phys. Lett., 708, 228 (2018).

“The Sub-millimeter Spectrum of F2SO (X1A'),” J.P. Keogh, D.T. Halfen and L.M. Ziurys, J. Mol. Spectrosc., 353, 1 (2018).

“Widespread CCH and c-C3H2 in the Helix Nebula: Unraveling the Chemical History of Hydrocarbons,” D.R. Schmidt, L.N. Zack, and L.M. Ziurys, Ap.J. (Letters), 864, L31 (2018).

“Pure Rotational Spectrum of the T-Shaped AlC2 Radical ( 2A1),” D.T. Halfen and L.M. Ziurys, PCCP20, 11047 (2018).

“New Circumstellar Sources of PO and PN: The Increasing Role of Phosphorus Chemistry in Oxygen-rich Stars,” L.M. Ziurys, D.R. Schmidt, and J.J. Bernal, Ap.J., 856, 169 (2018).

“Examining Transition Metal Hydrosulfides: The Pure Rotational Spectrum of ZnSH ( 2A¢),” M. P. Bucchino, G. R. Adande, D. T. Halfen, and L. M. Ziurys, J. Chem. Phys., 147, 154313 (2017).

“The Missing Halide: Millimeter-wave Spectroscopy of the MgI Radical ( 2Σ+),” K.M. Kilchenstein, D.T. Halfen, and L.M. Ziurys, J. Mol. Spectrosc., 339, 1 (2017).

“The 12C/13C Ratio in SgrB2(N): Constraints for Galactic Chemical Evolution and Isotopic Chemistry,” D.T. Halfen, N.J. Woolf, and L.M. Ziurys, ApJ., 845, 158 (2017).

“New Identifications of the CCH Radical in Planetary Nebulae: A Connection to C60?,” D.R. Schmidt and L.M. Ziurys, ApJ., 850, 123 (2017).

“New Detections of HNC in Planetary Nebulae: Evolution of the [HCN]/[HNC] Ratio,” D.R. Schmidt and L.M. Ziurys, ApJ., 835, 79 (2017).

“The Pure Rotational Spectrum of the ScO (X 2S+) Radical,” D.T. Halfen, J. Min, and L.M  Ziurys, J. Mol. Spectrosc., 331, 1 (2017).

“Following the Interstellar History of Carbon: From the Interiors of Stars to the Surfaces of Planets,” L.M. Ziurys, D.T. Halfen, W.D. Geppert, and Y. Aikawa, Astrobiology, 16, 997 (2016).

AstrochemistryAstrobiologyRadio AstronomyRotational SpectroscopyGas-phase synthesis