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Research at St Andrews

Christiane Helling


Christiane Helling, habil
Postal address:
School of Physics & Astronomy
Physical Science Building
North Haugh
St Andrews
United Kingdom


Direct phone: +44 (0)1334 461666

Research overview

 Ch Helling is the Director of the St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science. She coordinates the Marie-Słodovska-Curie ITN EJD CHAMELEON 'Virtual Laboratories for explanets and planet-forming disks', and is a former ERC starting grant holder at the University of St Andrews.

Ch Helling  focusses on theoretical astrophsyics, on modelling physics and chemistry in brown dwarf and planetary atmospheres. The understanding of exoplanet atmopsheres is hampered by cloud layers that block our views, and that are made of silicate-like materials rather than of water. Christiane Helling and Peter Woitke developed a kinetic, non-equilibrium cloud formation description that allows to model the formation of cloud particles, and to predict their properties. This is a theoretical description of gas - solid/liquid phase transitions which includes nucleation, growth and evaporation, and the influence of relative motions between gas and cloud particle on the growth process. This model enables insight in details like cloud particle compositions and size distribution, both essential for predicting and understanding observed spectra. Examples for application include giant gas planets like HD 189733b, the JWST target WASP-43b, but also ultra-hot Jupiters like HAT-P-7b.

With the ERC grant group LEAP - Life, Electricity, Atmospheres, Planets,  Ch Helling's studied ionisation processes in ultra-cool atmosphere, including cloud and gas charge and discharge processes, the effects of lightning, the origin of radio and X-ray emission from such cool atmospheres. 

Ch Helling's work applies knowledge from other disciplines and developes it further for the extreme conditions encountered in astrophysical objects. She has a strong interest in interdiscipinary work which resulted in the foundation of the St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science.

The Centre for Exoplanet Science (StA-CES) brings together researchers from Physics & Astronomy, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Philosophy & Social Antropology, Modern Languages and International Relations study extrasolar planets in the context of sciences and humanties. StA-CES members study out how planets form in different galactic environments, how their atmospheres evolve, and the relation between the evolutionary history of planets and the emergence of life. We are further interested in the moral, ethical and technical aspects of detecting existent or extinct extra-terrestrial life in distant exosystems, or within our own solar system, and the significance of such a discovery for our societies.

Ch Helling is the Physics & Asronomy champion for WISSA (Women in Science in St Andrews).

LEAP research group

St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science

Marie-Słodovska-Curie ITN EJD CHAMELEON

Women in Science in St Andrews (WISSA)

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