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2024 Dissertation Prize

2024 LAD Dissertation Prize Goes to Vincent Esposito

The Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is pleased to announce the recipient of its 2024 Dissertation Prize, given to an individual who has recently completed an outstanding theoretical or experimental doctoral dissertation in laboratory astrophysics. For the year 2024 the prize goes to Dr. Vincent Esposito for his thesis The Spectroscopy, Photochemistry, and Dynamics of Atmospheric and Astronomical Molecules. Dr. Esposito earned his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP), working with Professors Marsha I. Lester and Joseph S. Francisco. He is now a NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Fellow in the Astrophysics Branch at the NASA Ames Research Center.

Dr. Esposito is being cited for “The production of a significant body of work on the chemistry and detectability of novel molecules which hold significance in the evolution of planetary atmospheres”.  Dr. Esposito’s thesis is split into two volumes; Volume 1, titled “Inorganic Astrochemistry,” consists of work describing the spectroscopy, photochemistry, and dynamics of astronomical molecules while Volume 2, titled “Criegee Intermediates and other Atmospheric Molecules,” focuses on the chemistry of atmospheric species. In the astrochemistry work, he uses high-accuracy computational methods to compute the electronic structure and rotational, vibrational, and electronic spectra of astronomical small molecules, the majority of which are aluminum-bearing, and none of which have been experimentally characterized or observationally detected in space. These molecules include a range of cosmically and biologically relevant co-atoms such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and phosphorus. Additionally, radiative and non-radiative relaxation pathways for electronically-excited molecules are explored. The results point to a catalytic pathway for the freeing of aluminum atoms from dust grains and reaction pathways that may help explain the current non-detection of the PH and PS diatomic molecules. His thesis research led to 19 publications, 12 of which he was the first author.

Dr. Esposito was inducted Junior Phi Beta Kappa in 2016. He was also awarded the 2016 Dr. Robert H. Goddard Memorial Scholarship given by the National Space Club and Foundation. 

The LAD Dissertation Prize includes a cash award, a framed certificate, and an invited lecture at a meeting of the Laboratory Astrophysics Division.


Murthy S. Gudipati
LAD Past Chair
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
+1 (818) 536-9028

Rachel L. Smith
LAD Secretary
NC Museum of Natural Sciences / Appalachian State University
+1 (919) 707-8239

Vincent Esposito
NASA Ames Research Center

The AAS Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD, https://lad.aas.orgis a multi-disciplinary division that encompasses experimental and theoretical research, and related observational astronomy and planetary science, with the objective of advancing our understanding of the fundamental processes that drive the Universe.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS,, established in 1899 is a major international organization of professional astronomers, astronomy educators, and amateur astronomers. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe as a diverse and inclusive astronomical community, which it achieves through publishing, meetings, science advocacy, education and outreach, and training and professional development.