Dr. Snyder is a pioneer in the field of Astrochemistry. Starting at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the University of Virginia in the late 1960's, Dr. Snyder was the lead of the research team that was responsible for the detection of the first polyatomic molecule in space that contained more than a single heavy atom - formaldehyde (H2CO). Until this groundbreaking discovery at the 140ft telescope in Green Bank, WV in 1969, molecules that were detected in interstellar space largely consisted of a single heavy atom (e.g. C, O or N) and hydrogen. Examples include the detections of methylidyne (CH) in 1937, the hydroxyl radical (OH) in 1963 and water (H2O) and ammonia (NH3) in 1968.
Since this discovery, a total of 204 distinct molecules (and numerous isotopologues) have been detected in a variety of astronomical environments ranging from the first molecular gas produced in the most distant galaxies to the atmospheres of moons around the major planets - and nearly every astronomical environment found in between. In addition, over the 50 years of molecular discover, the rate of new molecules discovered in astronomical environments has stayed nearly constant at about 4 new molecule detections per year - largely thanks to Dr. Snyder's discovery. Dr. Snyder is responsible for about 20 astronomical detections of new molecules over the course of his career.
This discovery forever changed the landscape of astronomy and started the new science of astrochemistry. As Dr. Snyder stated in his detection paper 50 years ago next year, "The detection of interstellar formaldehyde provides important information about the chemical physics of our galaxy. We now know that polyatomic molecules containing at least two atoms other than hydrogen can form in the interstellar medium. Their formation apparently does not require extremely unusual interstellar conditions since we detected H2CO in clouds at various distances between earth and the background radio sources... Hence large regions of the galaxy may be filled with clouds containing formaldehyde This evidence coupled with the recent discovery of ammonia in the galactic center and water in several sources indicates that processes of interstellar chemical evolution may be much more complex than previously assumed."
In addition to his work on detecting new astronomical molecules, Dr. Snyder has also characterized the molecular content of the interstellar medium, detected new sources of astronomical masers and revolutionized our understanding of the chemical complexity of cometary comae. Dr. Snyder is now an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois. Over the course of his 40 years (need to check that) at the University of Illinois, Dr. Snyder has mentored 100s of graduate and undergraduate students and postdocs - many of which are still actively working in the field of astrochemistry. This award is a recognition of Dr. Snyder's commitment to expanding our knowledge of the chemical understanding of the universe and to developing the next generation of scientists dedicated to building a scientific literate community.
The Lewis E. Snyder Astrochemistry Award will be a new, yearly, non-financial award that will awarded to the most innovative and unique astrochemical investigation in either observations, theory or laboratory work. Any level of graduate student is eligible for the award but preference will be given early career students (1st or 2nd year graduate researcher in astrochemistry). The talk must be submitted to either the Astronomy sessions or an astronomy focused mini-symposium at the International Symposium on Molecular Spectroscopy. The award will be given in a short presentation at the plenary session of the Symposium.