Titan, one of the moons of Saturn, has an atmosphere rich in organic molecules. It is thought to be similar to the atmosphere of Primordial Earth. Of particular interest is a class of compounds called Tholins. They are organonitrogen-heteropolymers that are highly conjugated and very abundant in the atmosphere. Experiments done with synthetic Tholins have yielded interesting results. When reacted with a solution of nitric acid, amino acid residues are produced, leading to the possibility that these compounds could help give rise to life here on Earth. In order to better understand the chemistry surrounding these compounds, computer modeling is necessary. This project focuses on investigation of a radical reaction pathway involving hydrogen cyanide and methanimine that could lead to Tholin formation and destruction, along with analysis of other potential species that could have a role in Tholin synthesis. The specific compounds that were examined were hydrogen cyanide, a radical form of methanimine, and cyanamide. These compounds were also examined using Gaussian computer modeling, in addition to the gas model used to examine their reactions. The conclusions reached in this project were that Tholin synthesis is a result of hydrogen cyanide and cyanamide polymerization. It is unlikely that Tholin synthesis is a product of the reaction postulated in this study.

Semester/Year of Award

Spring 2014


Donghui Quan

Department/Professional Affiliation


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Honors Scholars