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Younas Khan

Instructor and Lab Coordinator This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
East Science Hall 4145
UAB Scholar's Profile

Research and Teaching Interests: Cometary volatile composition, cosmochemistry, planetary science, near-IR spectroscopy

Office Hours: By appointment


  • M.Phil. Physics, University of Peshawar, Pakistan
  • M.S. Physics, University of Missouri Saint Louis
  • Ph.D. Physics, University of Missouri Saint Louis

I was born and raised in Peshawar, a historic city in Pakistan, and once a center of the Gandhara civilization. Peshawar has been a junction of trade between the South and Central Asia due to its strategic location. It was also used a gateway to the Indian subcontinent by famous conquerors including Alexander the Great.

During my master’s degree from University of Peshawar, Pakistan, I used Density Functional Theory (DFT) to understand interactions between biomolecules (in particular, amino acids) and mineral surfaces. Such interactions not only have applications in biomedical engineering but are also important for getting insights into chemical reactions important for the formation of life. In 2018, I moved to the US to pursue my Ph.D. in physics.

I have always been fascinated by the wonders of our universe and its unfathomable vastness. Questions like “Are we the only intelligent species in the Universe?”, “How did our solar system form?”, “What is the role of small organic-rich bodies in delivering water and biomolecules to Earth?”, “What are the possibilities of life and habitability on exoplanets?” have always intrigued me. These questions, and more, motivated me to work on understanding the chemical composition of comets using near-IR spectroscopy during my Ph.D. Comets are among the most pristine solar system objects that formed in the early solar system nearly 4.5 billion years ago. They are rich in ices of water and organic molecules – both essential for life. Since their formation, comets have been "stored" in the extremely cold regions of the outer solar system. Thus, they retain signatures of the chemical, physical, and dynamical conditions present in the early solar system – comets are the “fossils” of our solar system. When comets visit the inner solar system, some of them not only create a spectacular view in the sky but also give us opportunities to understand what they are made up of and how they work.

I use the iSHELL spectrograph at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and the NIRSPEC spectrograph at the W. M. Keck Observatory, in Maunakea, Hawaii, to understand the chemistry of long and short period comets. My Ph.D. dissertation was focused on an interesting, hyperactive, and potential spacecraft mission target, comet 46P/Wirtanen (Abnormally High Alcohol, Mystery Heat Source Detected on Comet Wirtanen).

I am passionate about teaching, and before coming to the US, I worked as a lecturer of physics in a public college for 3 years. I also taught introductory astronomy classes as a primary instructor during my Ph.D. At UAB, I manage the undergraduate physics labs and teach basic astronomy courses. As a lab coordinator, I make sure that students’ understanding of physics concepts improve through hands-on experiments and analysis of data. The design of laboratory experiments also emphasizes independent learning, critical thinking, testing of hypotheses, and acquisition of knowledge and skills needed for 21st century.

The main goals of my teaching are:

  • To facilitate students’ learning of astronomy concepts through remote-accessible tools so that more students, from diverse backgrounds, have access to astronomy, particularly those who are unable to take in-person astronomy courses due to their circumstances.
  • To help inform students’ decision of considering astronomy as their career path, in particular those who have never taken an astronomy course before.
  • To encourage collaboration among students by working on group projects and sharing ideas.
  • To motivate and facilitate students in exploring the marvels of our Universe by themselves, i.e., by going out and looking at various spectacular phenomena in the sky.

I have also been involved in outreach of astronomy through participation in campus radio shows and arranging telescopes and planetarium visiting events for my students and the general public. I plan to remain involved in public outreach activities in astronomy, aimed at engaging the UAB and Birmingham community. I also welcome undergraduate students who are interested in research in near-infrared chemical characterization of comets.

  • Select Publications
    • Younas Khan et al., “Comprehensive study of the chemical composition and spatial outgassing behavior of hyperactive comet 46P/Wirtanen using near-IR spectroscopy during its historic 2018 apparition,” 2023, Astronomical Journal, 165, 231.
    • Younas Khan et al. “Testing Short-term Variability and Sampling of Primary Volatiles in Comet 46P/Wirtanen,” The Planetary Science Journal 2 (1), 20.
    • SA Mian, Y Khan, “The Adhesion Mechanism of Marine Mussel Foot Protein: Adsorption of L-Dopa on α-and β-Cristobalite Silica Using Density Functional Theory,” Journal of Chemistry, 2017, Article ID: 8756519.
    • SA Mian, Y Khan et al., “Investigating the adsorption mechanism of glycine in comparison with catechol on cristobalite surface using density functional theory for bio-adhesive materials,” RSC advances 6 (115), 114313-114319.
    • S Ali, Y Khan, Y Iqbal, K Hayat, M Ali, “Size determination of gold nanoparticles in silicate glasses by UV–Vis spectroscopy,” Journal of Nanophotonics 11 (1), 016011.
    • Mohammad Saki, Erika L Gibb, Boncho P Bonev, Nathan X Roth, Michael A DiSanti, Younas Khan, et al., “Chemical Composition of Outbursting Comet C/2015 ER61 (PanSTARRS),” The Astronomical Journal 162 (4), 145.
    • Michael A DiSanti, Boncho P Bonev, Neil Dello Russo, Adam J McKay, Nathan X Roth, Mohammad Saki, Erika L Gibb, Ronald J Vervack Jr, Younas Khan, Hideyo Kawakita, “Volatile Composition and Outgassing in C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto): Extending Limits for High-resolution Infrared Cometary Spectroscopy between 2.8 and 5.0 μm,” The Planetary Science Journal 2 (6), 225.
    • Neil Dello Russo, Ronald J Vervack, Hideyo Kawakita, Boncho P Bonev, Michael A DiSanti, Erika L Gibb, Adam J McKay, Anita L Cochran, Harold A Weaver, Nicolas Biver, Jacques Crovisier, Dominique Bockelée-Morvan, Hitomi Kobayashi, Walter M Harris, Nathan X Roth, Mohammad Saki, Younas Khan, “Volatile Abundances, Extended Coma Sources, and Nucleus Ice Associations in Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy),” The Planetary Science Journal 3 (1), 6.
    • Nathan X Roth, Boncho P Bonev, Michael A DiSanti, Neil Dello Russo, Adam J McKay, Erika L Gibb, Mohammad Saki, Younas Khan, et al., “The Volatile Composition of the Inner Coma of Comet 46P/Wirtanen: Coordinated Observations Using iSHELL at the NASA-IRTF and Keck/NIRSPEC-2,” The Planetary Science Journal 2 (2), 54.