Interstellar space is replete with molecules, ranging from the very simple (e.g. molecular hydrogen), to more complex and exotic species such as the cyanopolyynes (e.g. HC9N). However, young star-forming regions in particular demonstrate the richest chemistry observed outside the solar system, and are host to many molecules that are familiar from the terrestrial chemistry lab, including alcohols, aldehydes, esters and ethers; it is still a matter of debate how much of this interstellar material can survive intact to the planet-formation stage and beyond. Recent millimeter-wavelength spectral observations of high-mass star-forming regions, using the new ALMA telescope, have identified a range of new, and yet more complex molecules, whose formation mechanisms are just beginning to be fully explored. Diffusive chemistry on cold dust-grain surfaces and the energetic processing of the resultant ice mantles seem to play a critical role for many.
I will outline the chemical and physical processes that take place in interstellar clouds and star-forming cores, and will discuss new astronomical observations of organic molecules. I will also show how new chemical kinetics simulations, combined with astrophysical spectral-emission models, can help us understand both the chemistry of star formation, and the laboratory experiments that aim to reproduce its conditions.