Ted Bergin uses chemistry to probe the physics of star and planet formation and to trace the molecular origins of life. His current focus is the study of water and organics. He combines observation and theory to examine where and how molecules are formed, and how they interact with radiation. This aids in our understanding of chemistry but also increases the use of molecules as probes of the physics of star and planet formation. Bergin was part of a team that showed that ice on the comet Hartley 2 has the same chemical composition as our oceans, supporting the theory that Kuiper-belt comets may have delivered a significant portion of Earth’s water. He also helped detect vast quantities of cold water vapor in the outer reaches of the star TW Hydrae’s planet-forming disk, which further supports this theory.
Bergin has helped clarify the potentially life-supporting chemistry of planet-forming disks. With former student Jeffrey Fogel, Bergin developed models characterizing how stellar radiation propagates through a disk and affects its chemistry. They showed that the radiation is dominated by hydrogen Lyman alpha photons, a primary destroyer of water vapor. However, Bergin’s work with postdoc Thomas Bethell showed that water vapor can form spontaneously in habitable zones of solar systems – and do so quickly enough to form a protective layer that shields water and organic molecules from this destructive radiation.
Using ALMA (the Atacama Large Millimeter Array) to observe molecules in the planet-forming zone of disks and test his theoretical models.
BS, Villanova; PhD, University of Massachusetts. Astronomer/astrophysicist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. U-M Henry Russel Award for exceptional scholarship and teaching.
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