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Planetary and Space Sciences

An image of a space station

Research in planetary and space sciences takes place in one of the UK’s leading centres of excellence for such activities, with a multidisciplinary approach to the subject under the unifying themes of the formation and evolution of the Solar System, planetary exploration and the study of life in extreme environments.

Geologists, astronomers, chemists, physicists and microbiologists work together on space-flight instrumentation, extraterrestrial sample analysis, ground and space-based observations, theoretical modelling and experimental simulations of extraterrestrial processes. Planetary and Space Sciences, which is part of the Department of Physical Sciences, is a core member of CEPSAR, the University’s interdisciplinary Centre for Research in Physical and Environmental Sciences.

PhD projects are offered in all of these areas as well as for industrial collaborations on detector technology, medical, environmental and security spin-offs.

Key facts

  • Interdisciplinary environment with around 75 staff including 20 postgraduate students.
  • Internationally renowned researchers in a range of disciplines with CEPSAR being ranked in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, (70 per cent ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ and 95 per cent being at least ‘recognised internationally’ in terms of originality, significance and rigour).
  • Leading roles in international space missions, with student involvement at all phases (instrument development, flight operations and data analysis).
  • Student access to unparalleled laboratory facilities for analysis of extraterrestrial samples.
  • Many large grants from research councils, industry and charities.
  • Studentships funded by STFC and industry available each year.


Our world-class analytical facilities include a range of state-of-the-art stable isotope mass spectrometers, a NanoSIMS ion microprobe, an analytical scanning electron microscope with integrated Focused Ion Beam milling, gas chromatography-MS and -TOFMS, a range of optical microscope systems including laser Raman microprobe and UV-Vis Microphotospectrometer, and a microbiology lab equipped for culturing aerobic and anaerobic micro-organisms and molecular biology. We also have a large meteorite collection that provides extraterrestrial samples for the range of micro-analytical facilities.

Instrument laboratories are used for development of space experiments and terrestrial mass spectrometer applications. Space environment chambers are used to simulate the surfaces of Mars, Titan, asteroids and comets, and to test and calibrate space instruments. The imaging semiconductor test laboratory is used for development and testing of detectors for astronomical and terrestrial applications and the Hypervelocity Impact Laboratory houses a Light Gas Gun and electrostatic dust accelerator.

Students also have access to analytical facilities across the CEPSAR suite, as well as the University research computer cluster.

Further information

If you have an enquiry specific to this research area please contact:

Astrid Peterkin, Research Co-ordinator
+44 (0)1908 659845

For general enquiries please contact the Research Degrees Team via the link under 'Your Questions' on the right of the page."