Carbon and heavier atoms are born in the centre of stars. At the end of their life, stars spread their inner material into the diffuse interstellar medium. This diffuse medium gets locally denser and form dark clouds (also called dense or molecular clouds) whose innermost part is shielded from the external UV field by the dust, allowing for molecules to grow and get more complex. Gravitational collapse occurs inside these dense clouds, forming protostars and their surrounding disks, and eventually planetary systems like (or unlike) our solar system.
The formation and evolution of molecules, minerals, ices and organics from the diffuse medium to planetary bodies, their alteration or preservation throughout this cosmic chemical history set the initial conditions for building planets, atmospheres and possibly the first bricks of life.
This is the subject of the 3DICE project funded by an ERC Starting Grant, which started in 2013.
Scientific contact : Valentine Wakelam