Sun Kwok

Honorary Professor

Honorary Professor

EOS-S 260
(778) 858-5752

My research is on the study of organics in space.  We have found that stars near the end of their lives are able to synthesize complex organic compounds of mixed aromatic aliphatic structures over very short (~10yr) time scales.  These organics are ejected into the interstellar medium and spread across the Galaxy.  We are interested in possible relationship between these stellar organics to the organics found in the Solar System.  

We perform astronomical infrared and submm spectroscopic observations of stars from space-based telescopes.  These observational spectra are compared with results of quantum chemistry calculations of the vibrational spectra of complex organics with the goal of identifying the exact chemical structure of stellar organics..  

For the past 8 years, I have taught a Common Core course "Our Place in the Universe" at the University of Hong Kong.  Approximately 100 students every year from all faculties of the university enrolled in this course.

This course discusses the effects of astronomical discoveries over the last 5000 years on human society, philosophy, and religion.

My philosophy and implementation of science education reform is outlined in this article Science Education in the 21st Century in Nature Astronomy

Academic positions


Director, Laboratory for Space Research and Chair Professor of Space Science, University of Hong Kong


Dean of Science and Chair Professor in Physics, The University of Hong Kong


Director and Distinguished Research Fellow, Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Academia Sinica, Taiwan


Professor, Department of Physics & Astronomy, The University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


Killam Fellow, Canada Council  for the Arts

International Service

2015-2018 President, International Astronomical Union Commission F3 Astrobiology

2012-2015 President, International Astronomical Union Commission 34 Interstellar Matter


Books (authored)

Kwok, S. 2000  The Origin and Evolution of Planetary Nebulae, Cambridge University Press (ISBN 0-521-62313-8)

Kwok, S. 2001 Cosmic Butterflies, Cambridge University Press (ISBN: 0-521-79135-9)

Kwok, S. 2007 Physics and Chemistry of the Interstellar Medium, University Science Books (ISBN: 1-891389-46-7)

Kwok, S. 2011 Organic Matter in the Universe, Wiley (ISBN: 978-3-527-40986-0)

Kwok, S. 2013 Stardust: The Cosmic Seeds of Life, Springer (ISBN 978-3-642-32801-5)

Kwok, S. 2017 Our Place in the Universe: understanding fundamental astronomy from ancient discoveries, Springer (ISBN 978-3-319-54172-3)

Books (edited)

Kwok, S., and Pottasch, S.R.  (editors )  1987, Late Stages of Stellar Evolution, Reidel, Dordrecht, 1987 (ISBN: 90-277-2446-6).

Kwok, S. 1993 (editor) Astronomical Infrared Spectroscopy: Future Observational Directions, ASP Conference Series Vol. 41,  (ISBN: 0-937707-61-9)

Kwok, S., Dopita, M., Sutherland, R. (editors), 2003 IAU Symp. 209: Planetary Nebulae: Their Evolution and Role in the Universe, ASP (ISBN: 1-58381-148-6)

Kwok, S., Sandford, S. (editors)  2008 Organic Matter in Space, Cambridge University Press (ISBN 9780 521 889 827)

Qain, S., Leung, K., Zhu, L., Kwok, S. (editors)  2011 9th Pacific Rim Conference on Stellar Astrophysics, Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series (ISBN 978-1-58381-784-1)

Kwok, S., and Leung, K. (editors) 2016 Physics and chemistry of the late stages of stellar evolution, IoP Conference Series..

Encyclopedia entries

  1. Kwok, S. Proto-Planetary Nebulae, in Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Astrophysics, IOP publishing, p. 2168 (2001)
  2. Kwok, S.  Nebula, in McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology (ISBN: 0071441433), p. 645-649 (2007)
  3. Kwok, S. Planetary Nebulae. Scholarpedia, p.21150
  4. Kwok, S. Star dust, in Encyclopedia of Astrobiology (2nd edition), Springer, p. 2342-2344 (2014)
  5. Kwok, S. Organic Dust: synthesis by stars, in Encyclopedia of Astrobiology (2nd edition), Springer, p. 1787-1789 (2014)
  6. Kwok, S. Organic Dust: influence on the origin of life, in Encyclopedia of Astrobiology 2nd edition, Springer, 1785-1787 (2014)
  7. Kwok, S. Red Rectangle, in Encyclopedia of Astrobiology 2nd edition, Springer, 2158-2159 (2014)
  8. Kwok, S. Unidentified infrared emission bands, in Encyclopedia of Astrobiology 2nd edition, Springer, 2566-2569 (2014)
  9. Kwok, S. Proto-planetary nebulae, in Encyclopedia of Astrobiology 2nd edition, Springer, 2073-2075 (2014)

Books Chapters

Kwok, S., 2018, Astrobiology as a medium of science education. Chapter 1.4, in Handbook of Astrobiology, Vera Kolb (ed.), CRC Press.

Kwok, S., 2018, Formation and delivery of complex organic molecules to the Solar System and early Earth. Chapter 4.2, in Handbook of Astrobiology, Vera Kolb (ed.), CRC Press.

Selected recent journal publications

Kwok, S. 2017, Abiotic synthesis of complex organics in the Universe, Nature Astronomy, 1, 642-643

Kwok, S. 2016 Complex organics in space: from Solar System to distant galaxies, Astronomy & Astrophysics Review, 24, 8

Sadjadi, S., Zhang, Y., and Kwok, S. 2015 A Theoretical Study on the Vibrational Spectra of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Molecules with Aliphatic Sidegroups, Astrophys. J., 801, 34

Sadjadi, S., Zhang, Y., and Kwok, S. 2015 On the Origin of the 11.3 Micron Unidentified Infrared Emission Feature, Astrophys. J., 807, 95

Kwok, S., Zhang, Y. 2013 Unidentified Infrared Emission bands: PAHs or MAONs?  Astrophys. J., 771, 5 

Kwok, S. and Zhang, Y.  2011 Mixed aromatic/aliphatic organic nanoparticles as carriers of unidentified infrared emission features, Nature, 479, 80-83

Kwok, S. 2011 Delivery of complex organic compounds from evolved stars to the solar system, Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, , 41 (6), 497-502 

Kwok, S.  2004 The Synthesis of Organic and Inorganic Compounds in Evolved Stars, Nature, 430, 985