Star formation is a key process in forming visible structures in the universe, including galaxy clusters, galaxies, star clusters and planets. Star formation is just one step in the life cycle of interstellar medium (ISM), the main components of which are atomic hydrogen atoms (HI) and hydrogen molecules (H2). The transition from atomic to molecular hydrogen determines the formation time scale of dense molecular clouds that are sites of star formation, and thus sets up the initiation conditions of star formation.
The main focus of our research group is studying star formation and the ISM life-cycle. The PI of the group, Dr. Li, has lead many research programs, including spectroscopic and mapping projects of Arecibo, FCRAO, SWAS, Spitzer, Herschel, and SOFIA. He has pioneered several observing and data analysis techniques, including HI narrow self-absorption technique and a new inversion solution to the dust temperature distribution. These techniques lead to important measurements of star forming regions, such as the formation time scale. He is the key member of the team who first discovered molecular oxygen in space and then confirmed it with Herschel. His works have been highlighted on Nature magazine as one of the Astronomy highlights of 2010 and have been cited by numerous review articles. He is now leading the science preparation and international collaboration of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) project.
The group has 5 regular staff, two post-doctoral fellows, one doctoral candidate, and a few more master candidates and research students.