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Mark A. Smith


Mark A. Smith
Cullen Distinguished University Professor

Ph.D., University of Colorado, 1982
M.S., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1978
B.S., University of Oregon, 1976

Department of Chemistry
University of Houston
Houston, Texas 77204-5003
Office: 1025 - SERC
Phone: 713.743.2619

My research centers upon the organic chemistry of the interstellar media and outer planetary atmospheres and the development of broadly general instrumentation for space mission investigation of complex organic mixtures with a focus on astrobiology.

In the realm of interstellar chemistry, we study the rates of equilibrium and non-equilibrium ion-molecule reactions at temperatures from 500 K down to 10 K.  In this way, we can investigate rates of binary and radiative reactions under conditions applicable to circumstellar shells, comae and dense interstellar molecular clouds.  To do this work, we have developed a novel, radiofrequency ion trap mass spectrometer coupled to a molecular beam neutral delivery system.  With this, we can independently vary the temperatures of ion and neutral reactants and investigate the internal energy dynamics of these reactions.

We have been studying the chemistry of the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan, in close collaboration with the current Cassini mission.  The goal is to fully understand the molecular composition and physical and chemical properties of the organic haze aerosols shrouding this object.  In this way, we hope to understand how far organic chemistry can proceed in an abiotic environment.  With this understanding, we can make informed decisions regarding the optimal choice of analytical chemical instrumentation for future missions to the outer planets and the future study strategies of exoplanets.