student working on lasers in a lab
Andrew Turner performs work using lasers in the W.M. Keck Laboratory in Astrochemistry.

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa alumnus received a prestigious astrochemistry honor.

Andrew Turner, a 2018 PhD graduate in chemistry and current W.M. Keck Laboratory in Astrochemistry assistant director, was selected as the astrochemistry outstanding doctoral dissertation award winner, presented annually by the American Chemical Society (ACS). The honor includes a $500 prize and an opportunity to present at the spring 2021 national ACS astrochemistry symposium.

“I have seen the work of previous dissertation award winners and knew the high quality and impact of their research, and after the initial surprise, I was honored that the American Chemical Society believes my research rises to their level,” Turner said.

Turner’s dissertation focused on the biological origin of the element phosphorus. He noted that alkyl phosphonic acids were discovered in the Murchison meteorite, which fell to Earth in 1969, and said these acids may have been an early source of phosphorus. Turner’s research looked at the formation of these acids in interstellar ice by creating ices of phosphine, water and methane under low pressures and temperatures of -450 degrees Fahrenheit. Experiments involved subjecting these ices to ionizing radiation and they provided evidence that these molecules could be formed in interstellar clouds.

“This award shows very clearly the excellence in physical chemistry research being conducted at the Department of Chemistry of the University of Hawaiʻi with (former) students such as Andrew receiving excellent research training and conducting cutting-edge graduate work on campus,” said UH Mānoa Professor Ralf Kaiser, who is the W.M. Keck Laboratory in Astrochemistry director and served as Turner’s research advisor.

—By Marc Arakaki