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Astrobiology and habitats for life

An image depicting astrobiology and habitats for life

We use a range of experimental techniques, from molecular biology to mineralogy and geochemistry to orbital flight experiments, to understand the way in which microorganisms persist in extreme environments and how this could be applied to environments elsewhere. This includes investigating how microorganisms interact with the lithosphere to gain energy and nutrients and whether they leave behind biosignatures that could be used for life detection. Projects also use theoretical and simulation methods to quantify the conditions on other planetary bodies and their potential to support life, past and present. Our work is fundamental for understanding the environmental conditions in other planetary environments that can inform future life detection missions, and crucial for understanding the data (or samples) returned by such missions.

Qualifications available:

PhD or MPhil


For detailed information on current fees visit Fees and funding.

Entry requirements:

Minimum 2:1 (or equivalent) in relevant subject (e.g. geochemistry, chemistry or microbiology, dependent on project offered)

Potential research projects

  • Study of microbe-mineral interactions in extreme environments
  • Investigations of biosignatures created by life
  • Theoretical and laboratory study of habitable conditions on other planetary surfaces
  • Assessments of specific martian environments through modelling
  • Detection of organic molecules in extraterrestrial samples

Specific project details to be offered for 2019 start are listed on our job and studentship page.

Current/recent research projects

  • Searching for biogenic trace gases on mars using laboratory experiments and the ExoMars NOMAD instrument
  • Biogeochemical cycling in the sub-surface oceans of Enceladus and Europa
  • Carbon cycling in the sub-surface ocean of Enceladus
  • Novel luminescent sensors for detecting organic compounds in extraterrestrial samples
  • Biogeochemistry in the deep sub-surface environment: a key for finding potential life on Mars

Projects involve laboratory planetary simulation facilities including UV and near vacuum, and hypervelocity impact as well as molecular, aerobic and anaerobic microbiology laboratory facilities. Projects apply a range of geochemical and microbiological analytical techniques.

Potential supervisors

Further information

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

Administrative support
+44 (0)1908 858253

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