Skip to content

Toggle service links

Frances Butcher

Profile summary

  • Research Student
  • Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
  • School of Physical Sciences

Professional biography

My research is in planetary science, with a specific focus on exploring the past role of meltwater in glaciation on the planet Mars. I also contribute to studies of candidate landing sites for the ExoMars 2020 Rover mission.

Academic Background

October 2015 - March 2019: PhD, The Open University, UK:

  • Thesis title: 'Wet-Based Glaciation on Mars'
    • Supervisors: Dr Matt Balme (OU), Dr Susan Conway (University of Nantes), Dr Neil Arnold (University of Cambridge), Dr Stephen Lewis (OU), Dr Axel Hagermann (Stirling University).

November 2016: Instrument Scientist, UK Space Agency Mars Utah Rover Field Investigation (MURFI):

  •  A field trial simulating the upcoming ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars 2020 rover mission to Mars.

July 2015 - August 2015: Intern, The Open University, UK:

October 2012 - June 2015: BA (Hons.) Geography, University of Cambridge, UK:

  • Dissertation: 'Eskers on Mars? Investigating the Origins of the Dorsa Argentea'
    • First class (Mark: 96%)
    • Awarded the William Vaughan Lewis Prize (University of Cambridge)
    • Awarded the Corpus Christi College Prize (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge)
    • Published as: Butcher F.E.G., Conway, S.J., and Arnold, N.S., (2016), Are the Dorsa Argentea on Mars Eskers?, Icarus 275, 65-84,
  • Also awarded the Hewitt Exhibiton for Contributions to Outreach and Admissions Initiatives by Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Research and Conference Prizes Won

  • 2nd prize for '3 minute thesis' competition (2018), Open University STEM faculty.
  • Nature Astronomy Prize for Best Student Presentation (2017) at the 1st British Planetary Science Congress, Glasgow, UK, 4-5 Dec. 2017 (Poster).
  • John Glen Prize (2017) for the best student talk at the International Glaciological Society's British Branch Meeting, Lancaster University, UK, 5-7 Sept. 2017.
  • Prize for best student talk (2017) at the Astrobiology Society of Britain: Habitability Beyond Earth conference. Open University, UK, 13-14 Sept. 2017.
  • William Vaughan Lewis Prize (2015), University of Cambridge prize for undergraduate geography dissertation.
  • Corpus Christi College Prize (2015), Corpus Christi College (University of Cambridge) prize for undergraduate dissertation.
  • Hewitt Exhibition (2015), Corpus Christi College (University of Cambridge) prize for contributions to outreach and admissions initiatives between 2012 and 2015.

Travel Grants Won

  • 2019: International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA) Conference Grant (€1320)
  • 2019: Lunar and Planetary Institute Career Development Award ($1500)
  • 2019: GeoPlanet Research Mobility Grant (€1200)
    • Awarded by Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique, University of Nantes
  • 2018: Royal Astronomical Society Travel Grant (£900).
  • 2018: British Society for Geomorphology Postgraduate Conference Attendance Grant (£300).
  • 2017: Pierazzo International Student Travel Award ($2000).
    • Awarded to one non-US graduate student globally per year.
    • Awarded by the Planetary Science Institute.
  • 2016: Europlanet Grant 
    • Full funding to attend Europlanet RPIF 3D training workshop, Mullard Space Science Laboratory.
  • 2016: 6th International Mars Polar Conference European Student Travel Grant (€666).
    • Awarded by the International Association of Cryospheric Sciences.
  • 2015: Ogden Trust Trustees' Award (£900).
  • 2015: British Society for Geomorphology Postgraduate Conference Attendance Grant (£850).
  • 2015: ProViDE Summer School EU Student Travel Grant (£500).

Teaching interests


Invited Speaker: Open University Student Rover Team 'Rover Day':

  • Lecture title: 'Mars landing site selection'

Invited Seminar: University of Sheffield, Department of Geography Seminar Series:

  • Lecture title: 'Glaciers on Mars: Ice, Meltwater, and Morphological Mysteries'

Invited Speaker: Astrobiology Society of Britain & STFC Astrobiology Summer School for PhD students, University of Edinburgh.

  • Lecture title: 'Mars: The Search for Water, Landing Sites and Life'


Demonstrator, Natural Environment Research Council CENTA Doctoral Training Program ArcGIS Training Course, The Open University.

Invited Workshop: South-East Physics Network GRADnet Planetary Science Workshop for PhD students, National Physical Laboratory, London.

  • Lecture title: 'Planetary Geomorphology in Mars Landing Site Selection'

Impact and engagement

6th October and 24th November 2018: Featured in interview in the Guardian Weekend Supplement and online: 'The PhD researcher looking for water on Mars - and inspiring girls to reach for the stars'

July 2018: Provided expert opinion for media coverage of Orosei et al. 2018. Radar evidence of subglacial liquid water on Mars. Science. doi: 10.1126/science.aar7268.

  • BBC Three Counties Radio
  • BBC Foyle Radio
  • Vectis Radio (Isle of Wight)

November 2017-March 2018: Media coverage of new paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets: 'Recent basal melting of a mid-latitude glacier on Mars':

November 2017: Invited lecture, Denbigh School STEM lecture series, Milton Keynes

  • Lecture title: Space glaciers! Water ice on Mars and beyond...

October 2017: Fieldwork diaries podcast episode on 'Glaciers on Mars'.

September 2017: Invited lecture, Macclesfield Astronomical Society

  • Lecture title: Frozen in Time: Unlocking the Mysteries of Glaciers on Mars

May 2017: WeMartians podcast episode on Eskers on Mars

October 2015 - Present: Outreach Volunteer, The Open University

  • Open University Student Hub Live 'Planets' episode, Feb 2018
  • On-campus outreach events
  • 'Space Science Showcase', Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh, 12-13th August 2016.
  • Invited lectures:
    • Open University Geological Society Walton Hall Branch
    • Open University Astronomical Society
    • Open University student societies (including OU Geological Society East Midlands Branch and OU Fusion (Physics) society)
    • OU School of Physical Sciences events, including open days and awards ceremonies.

October 2012- June 2015: Access and Admissions Volunteer, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

  • Awarded a Hewitt Exhibiton by Corpus Christi College, Cambridge for contributions to outreach and admissions initiatives.


External collaborations

  • Neil Arnold (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, UK): External supervisor on PhD project 'The Geomorphology of Glacial Landscapes on Mars'.
  • Colman Gallagher (University College Dublin, Ireland): Studies of glacial landscapes and eskers on Mars.
  • Rob Storrar (Sheffield Hallam University, UK): Comparative studies of eskers on Earth and Mars.
  • Tjalling de Haas (Universiteit Utrecht, The Netherlands): Studies of the interaction of glaciation and gully formation on Mars.