PhD in Molecular Sciences for Earth and Space

The Ph.D. program, jointly offered with the Scuola Normale Superiore, aims to provide the critical tools to understand several aspects of Molecular Sciences applied to the study of Earth and Space, with particular emphasis on climate changes and the underlining processes of life origin and evolution.

Relevant topics in these fields are: the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with matter and how the collected data can provide a direct knowledge of Earth’s atmosphere and space, the processes of molecule formation in space and the conversion and evolution of molecules towards complex systems, including also the transformation and destruction of molecules, the chemical reactivity in the Earth’s atmosphere, taking into account the atmospheric pollution.

Molecules, ubiquitous in the universe and in the atmospheres of planets (including Earth), are the ideal proxy for these studies.

Thus, the main Ph.D. program topics are:

  • experimental and theoretical laboratory studies, ranging from organic synthesis to spectroscopy, from chemical reactivity to photochemistry, including also non-equilibrium processes;
  • astronomical observations and studies to interpret the acquired data, ranging from the identification of molecules in the interstellar medium to the characterization of the atmospheres of planets;
  • astronomical/astrochemistry modeling, ranging from techniques for the abundance analysis of chemical species in several astrophysical environments to the derived comprehension of their physical properties;
  • modeling of chemistry in the Earth’s troposphere and in stratosphere.

Relying on these solid grounds, the Ph.D. program offers a research track based on the methodological foundations of Molecular Sciences, pursuing the following goals:  

  • promoting and hosting very innovative research projects, adopting a multidisciplinary approach for the study of astrochemistry, astrobiology, and atmospheric chemistry;
  • welcoming international and Italian junior and senior scholars, with the aim of boosting all types of collaborations and building up a critical mass of researchers;
  • purchasing and managing advanced high-performance computing and spectroscopic instrumentations;
  • organizing scientific events and international and national workshops, by also engaging Institutions, Industry, and experts in the field;
  • acquiring research projects and grants from public and private, national and international companies.
  • promoting agreements and contracts with R&D centers, institutions, and private companies, in Italy and abroad, working in the field.   

Ph.D. Scholarships

Every academic year, via a public competition, SSM provides 5 scholarships, gross amount of 19.000 EUR, plus additional other 2 founded by Scuola Normale Superiore of the same amount, to attend the program. Additional scholarships can be added based on bilateral agreements with other academic and research institutions.

The total amount of each scholarship is increased to promote research activities in Italy and abroad.    


The admission to the Ph.D. program is granted after passing a public competition based on qualifications and examinations. To apply to the competition is required a Master Degree (Laurea Magistrale), or an equivalent title obtained in Italy or abroad.

The examination is based on the evaluation by the review board, of qualifications, recommendation letters, a research statement, and a final oral exam in English. A short list of applicants, admitted to the final oral exam, will be published in advance.

The number of available positions is decided every year from the SSM decisional board as reported in the public call (bando).

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The learning activity takes place over a four-year course in order to allow continuous contact between teaching staff and doctoral students. The teaching activity is mainly provided in the first year of the course, while, in the following three years, the doctoral students are committed to conducting scientific research and periodically reporting on their progress, both in individual interviews and in periodic seminar meetings.

The teaching activity of the first year includes compulsory courses (“pillar” courses) with final assessment for a total of 24 CFU (one CFU, university training credit, consists of 6 hours of frontal teaching + 18 hours of individual study or, alternatively, of 24 hours of study, research work, seminar activities).

The courses available (reported in the list below) cover many scientific fields and aim to develop common languages and skills among students coming, in general, from different study backgrounds. These courses can be accompanied by monographic courses (at least for 6 CFU) which suggested by the Scientific Board.

Doctoral students can attend other doctoral courses held at SSM, UniNa, SNS, other Italian and foreign locations, specific doctoral schools, with participation in national and international congresses or workshops, subject to the approval of the Coordinator and / or the Scientific Board.

Each doctoral student will have to achieve 240 CFU in four years.

In addition there are:

– seminars during which doctoral students can discuss specific aspects of their scientific work.

– lectures held by invitation from teachers outside the SSM.

– scientific training, management and enhancement of results achieved.

Access to the second year of the PhD program entails the presentation – to at least three members of the Scientific Board – of a detailed research project including a three-year work plan. The scientific commission can also ask the doctoral student, in addition to the discussion of the project itself and any scientific articles submitted or published by him/her, also a discussion on the seminar courses attended, and how he/she intends to develops his/her future research.

Access to the third year of the PhD program entails the discussion and approval of an indicative but detailed outline of the thesis which the student intend to elaborate as well as the discussion of the submitted and published scientific articles.

Access to the fourth year of the PhD program entails the presentation and discussion of the thesis (subject to the Tutor’s approval) to be reviewed and completed during the fourth year.

The teaching activity of the first year is spread over two quarters:
November-January and March-May.

In particular, the teaching and training activities (for a total of 80 CFU + 160 CFU for the thesis) must be advanced. Participation in seminars, workshops and research groups will be widely favored and encouraged. The training activity is specifically organized as follows:

I year: compulsory attendance of 6 “pillar” courses of 4 CFU (24 CFU) and 6 monographic courses of 2 CFU each (12 CFU). Active participation in conferences and seminars organized by the doctoral program or by other university and research institutions (10 CFU), preparation of the cutting-edge research project to access the II year of the course (14 CFU) – Total 60 credits;

II year: active participation in conferences and workshops organized by the School or by other university and research institutions (6 CFU); 2 days of presentation of the research progress in the presence of the tutors and the board, mini-workshop of the doctorate (6 CFU) – research work in preparation for the thesis (48 CFU) – Total 60 credits;

III year: seminars to present ongoing research in the presence of the tutors and the board and active participation in conferences and workshops (6 CFU); thesis research work (48 CFU) –Total 60 credits;

IV year: finalization and writing of the PhD thesis (60 CFU).

Research and teaching topics proposed:

  • molecular spectroscopy
  • computational spectroscopy
  • computational chemistry applied to chemical reactivity
  • atmo-/astrochemical modeling
  • chemical-physical systems for atmo-/astrochemical experimental modeling
  • organic chemistry of prebiotic processes
  • synthesis and transformations of complex organic systems in extreme conditions
  • bioorganic chemistry in extreme systems and conditions
  • organic photochemistry and evolution of excited states
  • modeling of photoinduced pre-biotic processes and their out-of-equilibrium dynamic behavior
  • modeling of ultrafast reactivity and interconnected transient spectroscopic techniques (femtochemistry)
  • chemistry and physics of surfaces and interfaces
  • astrobiology

Ad-hoc lectures will also be provided to fill any student gaps, such as:

  • organic chemistry (for physicists, astronomers and geologists)
  • astronomy (for chemists, physicists, geologists and engineers)
  • photochemistry and photophysics
  • elements of computational modeling
  • elements of quantum mechanics

Courses timetable is announced at the beginning of each the academic year. Courses and seminars are given along all of the academic year quarters (I/II/III/IV) .

Astrochemistry and molecular astrophysics

The course aims to provide basic and advanced knowledge of astrochemistry, including the theoretical description and application of cutting-edge experimental and computational techniques used in this discipline. At the end of the course, the PhD student will have acquired the necessary knowledge and the critical sense to understand and organize of a research activity in the astrochemistry field.


Experimental and theoretical chemistry for sustainability

The course aims to provide the basic and avant-garde knowledge of modern experimental and theoretical chemistry placed at the service of sustainability issues in today’s society. The course consists of two modules: (A)  synthesis techniques and characterization of molecules of environmental and industrial interest; (B) theory and computational methodologies useful for the study of eco-sustainable catalysis and of chemical and photochemical reactivity. At the end of the course, the PhD student will have acquired in addition to this knowledge the critical sense necessary for the understanding and organization of a research activity aimed at the synthesis or characterization, both experimental and theoretical, of molecular and material systems in a sustainable way.


• Biological chemical-physics

The course aims to provide basic and advanced knowledge of biological physical chemistry, including a particular attention to the chemistry and biology of the primordial earth. This course covers both experimental and computational contents, including the description of the theoretical foundations and the application of experimental techniques and the theory of computational techniques useful in biology and biochemistry. At the end of the course, the PhD student will have acquired not only this knowledge but also the critical sense necessary for the understanding and organization of a research activity in biological chemical-physics.

The following activities are managed in concert with the other SSM PhDs’ programmes.

Language courses: Italian language courses for foreigners, as well as English, French, German and Spanish are offered by the Centro Linguistico di Ateneo.
Computer skills: The School organises short courses to train PhD students in the critical use of digital resources and familiarise them with tools such as reference and source managers.
Management of research, knowledge of research systems and funding sources: The School organises training activities on funding opportunities .

Enhancement of research results and intellectual property: The School organises activities on the dissemination of scientific research, the protection of research results and authors, the protection of intellectual property and patenting procedures in the national and international field.

The research activity is carried out by each PhD student under the supervision of a thesis director chosen from among the members of the Scientific Board. The thesis director designated by the Board can be joined by a second director from within or outside the Board, possibly also activating a co-tutelle agreement.

The transition from the first to the second year will be decided on the basis of the presentation of an expanded research project including a state-of-the-art and a three-year work plan discussed in an interview which normally takes place in October. In addition to the discussion of the project itself and the papers prepared by them for the attended seminars and courses, the students will also present and discuss the bibliography relevant to their research.

The transition from the second to the third year will be based on the discussion and approval of an indicative but detailed outline of the thesis that the doctoral student proposes to draft and a chapter.

The transition from the third to the fourth year will take place on the basis of the presentation and discussion, and therefore the approval by the director of the thesis, of a further chapter of this and a detailed index.


The Winter Modeling meetings act as a platform to exchange ideas and promote collaborations within the broad community of researchers working in the multidisciplinary field of Computational Chemistry, who are sharing bottom-up approaches (from micro- to macro-scale) to model complex molecular system, with a flavor of Astrochemistry and Earth sciences.

Seminars will be organized as part of the Scuola Superiore Meridionale project for the entire duration of the doctoral course. These seminars are organized weekly and are held by invitation by internationally renowned professors and researchers from national and international Academies and Research Institutions. The aim of the seminar cycles is to deepen the fundamental subjects of the doctoral course (astrochemistry, atmospheric and environmental chemistry, biological physical chemistry, photochemistry) and to promote connections and interdisciplinarity with other areas of the School (astrophysics, astrobiology, life sciences). Students also have the opportunity to attend the seminars hosted in other Departments of Federico II and of the Scuola Normale Superiore. Most of the seminars will take place in mixed mode (on site and online).

The research doctorate in “MOlecular Sciences for Earth and Space” was born as an innovative doctorate with an international and interdisciplinary character with the aim of attracting the best students and constantly involving the leading international experts on the topics of the doctorate in the teaching activity, in addition to scholars working in foreign universities belonging to the Board. Web page, notices and support materials are in Italian and English.


It is mandatory for each PhD student to spend at least six months at foreign university and research institutions. The languages of the doctorate are Italian and English, courses and seminars can be held in both languages.

The Ph.D. program provides for and promotes a broad mobility of teachers and students, also stimulated by the scientific ties of the members of the college with various prestigious international and foreign institutions. Among these we mention:

Physical and Theoretical Chemical Laboratory, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

King’s College London, UK

Astronomy Department, UCL, UK

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universitat Hannover, Germany

Université Gustav Eiffel, France

Université de Rennes 1, France

Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany

Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT), Germany

Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany

ELTE Eötvös Lorànd University, Budapest, Hungary

Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Universidad de Valladolid, Spain

Chongqing University, Chongqing, China

University of Washington, Seattle, USA

The SSM organizes -specialized- transversal activities on the main IT systems. Computer skills are the focus of classes and seminars dedicated to methodology and source analysis (seminars are held at the Sistema Bibliotecario di Ateneo to train doctoral students in the critical use of digital resources and the use of tools such as reference managers and spreadsheets, etc.). Lessons and exercises dedicated to the use of the main quantum chemistry programs will be held by teachers of the scientific board. The SSM will be equipped with a Computing Center.

Vincenzo Barone
Scuola Normale Superiore

Nadia Rega
Università di Napoli Federico II

Carlo Adamo
Chimie Paris Tech, Francia

Malgorzata Biczysko
University of Shanghai, Cina

Paola Caselli
Max Planck, Garching, Germania

Josè Cernicharo
ICMM-CSIC, Madrid, Spagna

Cristina De Castro
Università di Napoli Federico II

Claudio De Rosa
Università di Napoli Federico II

Joseph Francisco
University of Pennsylvania, USA

Concetta Giancola
Università di Napoli Federico II

Paola Manini
Università di Napoli Federico II

Ana Belén Muñoz García
Università di Napoli Federico II

Alessio Petrone
Università di Napoli Federico II

Cristina Puzzarini
Università di Bologna

Giovanni Talarico
Università di Napoli Federico II

Marco Trifuoggi
Università di Napoli Federico II

Federico Coppola

Mattia Melosso

Marco Mendolicchio

Fulvio Perrella

Length of the programme: 4 years

Scholarship: each year the SSM advertises six scholarships amounting to € 19.000 gross per year.

In addition to the scholarship, each student receives a research allowance.

SSM - Scuola Superiore Meridionale