Less than a hundred years ago astronomers believed that molecules could not survive in the harsh environment of interstellar space. However, advancements in radio astronomy in the last 50 years have enabled a boom in the detection of new molecules. Today, our picture of the molecular universe has expanded and over 200 molecules have been identified in the interstellar medium, including exotic and unstable species as well as many organic molecules that are also found on Earth. These molecules can be used to probe the temperatures, densities and levels of radiation and ionization of interstellar regions. Interstellar space also represents the ultimate physical chemistry laboratory, providing the ideal testing grounds for fundamental theories of cold chemistry and collisions.
I will discuss experimental methods that can be used to simulate these environments and support astronomical observations, including ice experiments and low-temperature gas-phase kinetics measurements. I will present the major challenges in the field and how we have used cutting-edge experiments to approach these questions. These experiments are critical in order to maximize the scientific return from large-scale telescopes like the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). I will also discuss our new observations of cold molecular clouds, highlighting the rich carbon chemistry that we have found to be present even at the earliest stages of star-formation.