Titan/Exoplanet Organic Aerosol and Surface chemistry (TOAST) Laboratory

Laboratory Infrastructure of the TOAST laboratory at JPL. Left top: Home-developed laser ablation and laser ionization time of flight mass spectrometry for in-situ determination of the composition of organic aerosols. Left bottom: state-of-the-art synthesis laboratory to synthesize unstable organic molecules that are found on Titan’s and potentially exoplanet atmospheres. Right: Spectroscopy and photochemistry system to simulate ultraviolet-visible light induced photochemistry of organics to form aerosols.

At the Titan/Exoplanet Organic Aerosol and Surface chemistry (TOAST) Laboratory of JPL our goal is to understand photochemical evolution of solid organics in the form of atmospheric aerosols and surface layers on Titan and potential exoplanet atmospheres. We have developed state-of-the-art synthesis laboratory for preparing small and unstable organic molecules for immediate investigation. At our Ice Spectroscopy Laboratory (ISL), with which TOAST lab shares its resources, we have instrumentation to simulate radiation conditions and to derive spectroscopic properties of ices and organics at a wide variety of wavelengths (0.1 -500 microns) and temperatures (5 - 150 K). We also study spectral variations in ices due to radiation bombardment, primarily using ultraviolet and visible photons (lasers) and electrons of energies 1-100 keV.

Our recent work, funded by NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) focusing on Titan as a model prebiotic system, has shown that sun light (Ultraviolet-Visible) photons reaching the lower atmosphere on Titan induce photochemical polymerization of Titan’s atmosphere molecular ices, resulting in complex organic polymer formation. These molecules form a part of aerosols in Titan’s atmosphere. Similar photochemistry could be responsible at higher temperatures in the gas-phase for the formation of aerosols in exoplanet atmospheres, which is another aspect of our research on organic aerosols.


Ongoing Research Projects: 
  • NASA SSW: Photochemistry in Titan’s Lower Atmosphere
  • NAI – Titan as a model prebiotic system (past funding)
  • Exoplanet Initiative at JPL – proposal pending
  • NASA Exoplanet Research (XPR) – proposal pending