Guillermo M. Muñoz Caro

Short description

Dr. Guillermo Muñoz Caro is a staff member of the Center of Astrobiology (INTA-CSIC) with a position as Investigador Científico de OPIs (civil servant). He directed four postdocs, three PhD students defended their thesis with cum laude during 2012-2017, and two Master Thesis in Astrophysics (POPIA) with a rating of 9 in a 10-scale. He is currently leading a postdoc and supervising a PhD student.

I am the Coordinator of the research group ¨Interstellar and Circumstellar Medium¨ at CAB, and I am also in charge of the LSAIP laboratory at CAB for the simulation of interstellar environments and planetary atmospheres. From 2105 to 2017 I have been PI of the Excellence Network ¨Cosmic Dust¨ (AYA2015-71975-REDT) to promote the collaboration between Spanish institutions dedicated to this topic: IEM-CSIC in Madrid, UPV-Alcoy, IAA in Granada, and CAB. My research is dedicated to i) solid matter in Space that is mainly observed in the infrared (ice and dust grains) and its interaction with the gas observed in the radio ii) experimental simulations of primary photon- and ion-induced processes in ice analogs of astrophysical relevance, leading to formation of organic matter, and iii) organics present in IDPs, comets and meteorites, which could have contributed to trigger prebiotic chemistry on Earth. I participate in the future SPICA-SAFARI mission and the COSAC-Rosetta mission to a comet, the later led to the first in situ detection of organic molecules on the cometary surface. I collaborate with various institutions: IAS in Orsay, M.-P.-I. for Solar System Research in Goettingen, Palermo Observatory, NCU and National Synchrotron in Taiwan, ESO, the GANIL accelerator in France, the Groningen Observatory in The Netherlands, etc. In Spain, he collaborates with IEM and ITEFI from CSIC. I participated in several funded projects (four national projects as PI, Synergy, Consolider, Formosa, Ramón y Cajal, Marie Curie Fellow, etc.). I joined several astronomical observations using telescopes worldwide (IRAM-30m, Effeslberg, JCMT, UKIRT, APEX, and ALMA).

In order to understand the processes occurring in dense interstellar clouds, I study the formation of organic species by ice irradiation and the physical ice processes such as thermal desorption and photo-desorption of molecules. Astrobiological species of interest synthesized by energetic ice processing include amino acids (Nature publication), nitrogen heterocycles, carboxylic acids, etc. Some of the diamino acids synthesized in these experiments were later detected by us in the Murchison meteorite, this work was published in PNAS. I also study the formation of carbonaceous matter in diffuse interstellar clouds observed in several galaxies with Spitzer. I worked on the study of interplanetary dust (IDPs) provided by NASA-JSC, characterizing the bulk of carbon IDPs as a form of amorphous carbon, and I analyzed the first cometary NASA-Stardust samples delivered to a Spanish researcher. I am currently responsible for the ISAC ultra-high vacuum chamber to simulate the processes of accretion-desorption on the ice and product synthesis by UV irradiation, X-rays in the Taiwanese synchrotron NSRRC, and swift heavy ions simulating cosmic rays in the GANIL accelerator (France). I published an invited review paper in Chem. Soc. Rev. on prebiotic chemistry in the astrophysical context. I co-authored a PNAS paper on monolayer-thin ice infrared spectroscopy, inferring that no amorphous solid CO2 has never been observed in ice mantles in space. Among other recent studies, we performed far infrared spectroscopy of ice analogs as a database for Herschel and the planned SPICA missions, and the synthesis of HNCO isomers by irradiation of certain ice mixtures to interpret the observed gas phase abundances. My team is currently performing cutting edge research in the field of ice photodesorption, which requires the best ultra-high vacuum conditions and a very optimized system. We measured, for the first time, the ultraviolet absorption cross sections of various ice components in our laboratory; this allowed the estimation of the first photodesorption rates per absorbed photon in the ice. Such experiments are intended to explain the presence of molecules in the gas (CO, H2CO, CH3OH, ...) in cold regions. We published in Phys. Rev. Lett. the first evidence for Wannier-Mott excitons in irradiated ices. Finally, as co-I of the COSAC-Rosetta team, I co-authored a Science paper that reports the first direct detection of complex organic molecules in a cometary nucleus.