2017 Bolton Lecture in Astronomy, Catherine Walsh

Interstellar snowflakes: the beginnings of complex life?

This is the 18th in a series of our annual lectures. It is free to attend and open to the public. It is primarily aimed at 16 to 18 year old school children.


The space between the stars, the interstellar medium, is full of clouds of dust and gas which are the formation sites of the next generation of stars. These cold star-forming clouds shine with light from molecules that we can observe with radio telescopes. These molecules are critical for the birth of new stars and the planetary systems that will eventually form in their surroundings. How do these molecules form and survive in the harsh environment of space? And what role do they play in star and planet formation and the beginnings of complex life on 'life-friendly' planets? We will explore chemistry in the extreme environment of space, and discuss the importance and influence of interstellar molecules in shaping and seeding forming planetary systems.


Dr Catherine Walsh is a University Academic Fellow in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leeds and a world renowned expert on the molecular astrophysics of star and planet formation who receives many invitations to speak at major international conferences.

Prior to arriving in Leeds she held a prestigious Veni research fellowship supported by the Netherlands Organisation of Scientific Research (NWO) and was based in Leiden Observatory. She obtained her PhD in Astrophysics from Queen's University Belfast. Her research interests lie in the field of astrochemistry, which is the study of the exotic chemistry that happens in the extreme environments encountered in space.

She has published numerous ground breaking works on the chemistry in planet-forming disks around young stars, and the link with the composition of forming planets and the delivery of life-building molecules. She also works with data from one of the largest telescopes in the world, which can detect light from cold molecules, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array.

Book Now

Due to the popularity of this event in previous years all seats need to be pre-booked using the link above. This assists with our planning and ensures that we do not have to turn anyone away on the night.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Directions to the University are here.

All enquiries should be directed to Sarah Gardner, e:s.m.gardner@leeds.ac.uk, t: +44 (0)113 3433881.