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Dr Anita Dawes

Anita Dawes

Profile summary

  • Central Academic Staff
  • Lecturer in Physics
  • Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
  • School of Physical Sciences
  • anita.dawes

Professional biography

I am a Lecturer in Physics at the School of Physical Sciences at the Open University.

​2016 - 2019 Leverhulme Research Fellow - reserach in laboratory molecular astrophysics / astrochemistry.

2013 - 2016   In 2013 I returned to research at the Shchool of Physical Sciences at the OU following a 7-year career break. My return was made possible with a Daphne Jackson Fellowship, co-sponsored by the Open University and Science and Technology Facilities Council. The tailor-made fellowship enabled me to re-train and refresh my skills and regain confidence as a researcher, allowing me to work part-time whilst looking after my young family. Towards the end of the three years, the Daphne Jackson re-training programme paid off and I was successful in securing a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship (Oct 2016 - Jun 2019), continuing my  pre-career-break research in laboratory molecular astrophysics.

2006 - 2013  Career break, becoming a mother to three children.

2003 - 2006   Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Physics and Astronomy, The Open University; applying Experimental Molecular Physics to Astrochemistry and helping establish the Astrochemistry Laboratory that has now become the Molecular Astrophysics Lab (2017).

2000 - 2003   PhD in Laboratory Molecular Physics, University College London

1996 - 2000   Undergraduate MSci degree in Physics, University College London

Research interests

My research interests are in Experimetnal Molecular Physics applied to Astrophysical enviromnents. I simulate cold space environments such as dense molecular clouds from which stars form, protoplanetary discs around baby stars or icy surfaces of Outer Solar System bodies under conrtolled laboraory conditions to study the chemical and physical properties of cosmic ice analogues. My specific interests are:

  • creating astrophysical ice analogues under controlled laboratory conditions (in situ vapour deposition, acoustic levitation)
  • probing astrophysical ice analogues in situ with a combination of complementary infrared and vacuum ultraviolet spectrocopic techniques, using a unique portable experimental system
  • investigating how the physical and chemical properties of ices grown in the laboratory are affected by molecular composition, thickness, temperature, concentration and mixing/layering and how these relate to real astrophysical environments
  • specialising in high resolution vaccuum ultraviolet spectroscopy (115 - 340 nm), using synchrotron radiation at the ASTRID2 Synchrotron Facility, Denmark, to determine photoabsorption cross sections of condensed ices and ice mixtures in order to better understand the electronic structure of condensed molecules and quantify photochemical processes
  • investigating the role of large condensed phase molecules such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as constituents of astrochemical ices in influencing chemical and desorption processes
  • high resolution laboratory infrared spectroscopy for the interpretation of astronomical spectra in star-forming regions
  • investigating the effect of realistric micro-/nano-scale dust grain size, shape and composition on the physical and chemical properties of ices by exploiting the technique of acoustic levitation
  • laboratory investigatiion of optical scattering properties of levitated sub-micron dust, ice and aerosol particles in an ultrasonic trap.

Acoustically levitated snowflakes

Snowflakes 'grown' and levitated in the ultrasonic trap for containerless investigation of their optical properties.

Acoustically levitated icy soot aggregates

Icy soot aggregates grown in the ultrasonic trap as analogues of icy dust particles in star-forming regions of space

Teaching interests

I am currently developing a remote experiment to probe gas samples representing planetary atmospheres, using infrared spectroscopy, as part of the (SXPS288) "Remote experiments in physics and space" module team... soon to come!

I was a physicist on the module team for the Level 1 Module (S111) "Questions in Science" (2016-2018)

I was a Topic Specialist on the Level 2 Module (SXPA 288) "Practical Science: Physics and Astronomy"(2016-2018)

Research Activity

Externally funded projects

STFC Open 2018 DTP

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01/Oct/201830/Sep/2022STFC Science & Technology Facilities Council
STFC Open 2018 DTP

The physico-chemical properties and aggregation of interstellar dust and ice

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Oct/201630/Jun/2019LEVERHULME The Leverhulme Trust
Microscopic icy dust particles in the interstellar medium play a crucial role in molecular synthesis and star and planet formation. Laboratory data is essential for interpretation of astronomical spectra and for building accurate astrochemical models. However most laboratory ices are grown on large (cm-sized) flat substrates, unrepresentative of microscopic 3D fractal-like interstellar grains. Evidence suggests that particle size, structure and composition may profoundly influence the physico-chemical properties of ice. I will exploit novel laboratory techniques, by developing a unique acoustic trap to form and trap microscopic icy dust particles as realistic interstellar icy grain analogues and investigate their physico-chemical properties and aggregation using infrared and ultraviolet spectroscopy and compare to observations. This work has the potential to resolve key Astrochemistry questions that have persisted for decades, whilst bringing together core strands of physics, chemistry and astronomy.


The optical absorption spectra of spontaneously electrical solids: the case of nitrous oxide (2019)
Cassidy, Andrew; James, Rachel; Dawes, Anita; Lasne, Jérôme and Field, David
Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, 21(3) (pp. 1190-1197)
VUV spectroscopy of an electron irradiated benzene : carbon dioxide interstellar ice analogue (2019)
James, Rachel L.; Jones, Nykola C.; Hoffmann, Søren V. and Dawes, Anita
RSC Advances, 9(10) (pp. 5453-5459)
Probing the interaction between solid benzene and water using vacuum ultraviolet and infrared spectroscopy (2018)
Dawes, Anita; Pascual, Natalia; Mason, Nigel J.; Gärtner, Sabrina; Hoffmann, Søren V. and Jones, Nykola C.
Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, 20 (pp. 15273-15287)
Vacuum ultraviolet photoabsorption spectroscopy of crystalline and amorphous benzene (2017-10-05)
Dawes, Anita; Pascual, Natalia; Hoffmann, Søren V.; Jones, Nykola C. and Mason, Nigel J.
Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, 19 (pp. 27544-27555)
Using the C-O stretch to unravel the nature of hydrogen bonding in low-temperature solid methanol-water condensates (2016)
Dawes, Anita; Mason, Nigel and Fraser, Helen J.
Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, 18 (pp. 1245-1257)
Photon- and electron-stimulated desorption from laboratory models of interstellar ice grains (2010-07)
Thrower, J. D.; Abdulgalil, A. G. M.; Collings, M. P.; McCoustra, M. R. S.; Burke, D. J.; Brown, W. A.; Dawes, A.; Holtom, P. J.; Kendall, P.; Mason, N. J.; Jamme, F.; Fraser, H. J. and Rutten, F. J. M.
Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A, 28(4) (pp. 799-806)
Desorption of hot molecules from photon irradiated interstellar ices (2008-02)
Thrower, J. D.; Burke, D. J.; Collings, M. P.; Dawes, A.; Holtom, P. D.; Jamme, F.; Kendall, P.; Brown, W. A.; Clark, I. P.; Fraser, H. J.; McCoustra, M. R. S.; Mason, N. J. and Parker, A. W.
Astrophysical Journal, 673(2) (pp. 1233-1239)
The spectroscopy and chemical dynamics of microparticles explored using an ultrasonic trap (2008)
Mason, N. J.; Dawes, A.; Drage, E. A.; Webb, S. M.; McPheat, R. and Hayes, G.
Faraday Discussions, 137 (pp. 367-376)
Surface science investigations of photoprocesses in model interstellar ices (2008)
Thrower, J. D.; Collings, M. P.; McCoustra, M. R. S.; Burke, D. J.; Brown, W. A.; Dawes, A.; Holtom, P. D.; Kendall, P.; Mason, N. J.; Jamme, F.; Fraser, H. J.; Clark, I. P. and Parker, A. W.
Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A, 26(4) (pp. 919-924)
Morphological study into the temperature dependence of solid ammonia under astrochemical conditions using vacuum ultraviolet and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (2007-06-28)
Dawes, Anita; Mukerji, Robin J.; Davis, Michael P.; Holtom, Philip D.; Webb, Sarah M.; Sivaraman, Bhalamurugan; Hoffmann, Søren V.; Shaw, David A. and Mason, Nigel J.
Journal of Chemical Physics, 126(24) (pp. 244711-1)
The ultraviolet spectrum of condensed methylamine at 25 K (2007-05)
Holtom, P. D.; Dawes, A.; Davis, M. P.; Hoffmann, S. V.; Mukerji, R. J. and Mason, N. J.
Radiation Physics and Chemistry, 76(5) (pp. 745-749)
Low energy 13C+ and 13C2+ ion irradiation of water ice (2007)
Dawes, Anita; Hunniford, Adam; Holtom, Philip; Mukerji, Robin J.; McCullough, Robert W. and Mason, Nigel
Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, 9 (pp. 1-8)
VUV Spectroscopy of Extraterrestrial Ices (2006-09-22)
Mason, Nigel J.; Dawes, Anita; Holtom, Philip D.; Mukerji, Robin J.; Davis, Michael P.; Sivaraman, Bhala; Kaiser, Ralf I.; Hoffmann, Soren V. and Shaw, David A.
American Institute of Physics Conference Proceedings, 855(1) (pp. 128-139)
VUV photoabsorption spectroscopy of sulfur dioxide ice (2006-01)
Holtom, P.D.; Dawes, A.; Mukerji, R.J.; Davis, M.P.; Webb, S.M.; Hoffman, S.V. and Mason, N.J.
Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, 8(6) (pp. 714-718)
VUV spectroscopy and photo-processing of astrochemical ices: an experimental study (2006)
Mason, Nigel J.; Dawes, Anita; Holoton, Philip D.; Mukerji, Robin J.; Davis, Michael P.; Sivaraman, Bhalamurugan; Kaiser, Ralf I.; Hoffmann, Søren V. and Shaw, David A.
Faraday Discussions
VUV spectroscopy and photo-processing of astrochemical ices: an experimental study (2006)
Mason, Nigel J.; Dawes, Anita; Holtom, Philip D.; Mukerji, Robin J.; Davis, Michael P.; Sivaraman, Bhalamurugan; Kaiser, Ralf I.; Hoffmann, Soren V. and Shaw, David A.
Faraday Discussions, 133 (pp. 311-329)
Atmospheric chemistry with synchrotron radiation (2005-05-14)
Mason, N.J.; Dawes, A.; Mukerji, R.; Drage, E.A.; Vasekova, E.; Webb, S.M. and Limão-Vieira, P.
Journal of Physics B: Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics, 38(9) (S893-S911)
Laboratory studies of astrophysical molecules: a new UCL apparatus (2005-01-10)
Dawes, A.; Mason, N.J.; Tegeder, P. and Holtom, P.
In: Whelan, C.T. and Mason, N.J. eds. Electron scattering: from atoms, molecules, nuclei and bulk matter. Physics of atoms and molecules (pp. 329-340)
ISBN : 306487012 | Publisher : Springer
Study of condensed phase molecules and molecular synthesis in astrophysical environments (2003)
Dawes, Anita; Holtom, Philip and Mason, Nigel J.
In: Haldar, Dipak and Pandalai, S.G. eds. Recent Research Developments in Chemical Physics(part II) (pp. 519-532)
ISBN : 8178950952 | Publisher : Transworld Research Network
Spectroscopic study of photon, ion and electron stimulated molecular synthesis in astrophysical ices (2003)
Dawes, Anita
PhD thesis University College London (University of London)

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