The fundamental differences between gas-phase and grain-surface chemistry is highlighted by simulating the formation routes of representative iCOMs occurring within these two scenarios.

Several organic chemical compounds (the so-called interstellar complex organic molecules, iCOMs) have been identified in the interstellar medium (ISM). Examples of iCOMs are formamide (HCONH2), acetaldehyde (CH3CHO), methyl formate (CH3OCHO), or formic acid (HCOOH). iCOMs can serve as precursors of other organic molecules of enhanced complexity, and hence they are key species in chemical evolution in the ISM. The formation of iCOMs is still a subject of a vivid debate, in which gas-phase or grain-surface syntheses have been postulated. In this study, we investigate the grain-surface-formation pathways for the four above-mentioned iCOMs by transferring their primary gas-phase synthetic routes onto water ice surfaces. Our objective is twofold: (i) to identify potential grain-surface-reaction mechanisms leading to the formation of these iCOMs, and (ii) to decipher either parallelisms or disparities between the gas-phase and the grain-surface reactions. Results obtained indicate that the presence of the icy surface modifies the energetic features of the reactions compared to the gas-phase scenario, by increasing some of the energy barriers. Therefore, the investigated gas-phase mechanisms seem unlikely to occur on the icy grains, highlighting the distinctiveness between the gas-phase and the grain-surface chemistry.

This work has been published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

Link to the article as open access in Int. J. Mol. Sci.: