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Planetary formation and evolution

Research Planetary formation and evolution with the Open University

We have a thriving community of about 20 members including academics, researchers and post graduate research students working in the field of planetary formation and evolution based in the School of Physical Sciences. We use a range of cutting-edge laboratory instrumentation to investigate mineralogical, geochemical and isotopic signatures of planetary materials to understand the origin and evolution of their parent bodies. We are among the leading experts in the world in making high-precision light stable isotope measurements using in-situ techniques, and our Cameca NanoSIMS 50L is currently the only dedicated ion probe facility in the UK for planetary science research. The planetary samples for our research are allocated through national and international curation facilities as well as through NASA’s Apollo sample collection. Most of our research is carried out in collaboration with planetary scientists, each of whom have an international reputation in their field of expertise. Results from our projects contribute towards development of future planetary exploration strategy of the European Space Agency such as planning of future sample return missions from the Moon, Mars and other bodies in the Solar System. 

Qualifications available:

PhD or MPhil


For detailed information on current fees visit Fees and funding.

Entry requirements:

Minimum 2:1 (or equivalent) in geoscience or relevant natural sciences disciplines

Potential research projects

  • Mineralogy/petrology/geochronology of rock samples from differentiated objects (e.g., Moon, Mars, etc.) for understanding planetary formation and evolution
  • Comets and meteorites: the volatile inventory of the early Solar System
  • Tracking planetary accretion and evolution through stable isotope signatures (e.g., O, Si, Cr)
  • Impact effects on isotopic dating systems (e.g. 40Ar/39Ar and U-Th/He)

Projects mainly involve detailed laboratory investigations of extra-terrestrial samples using the latest generation of analytical instruments such as FIB-SEM, EPMA, Raman, NanoSIMS. Each project provides a good balance between application of existing analytical methods and development of new and innovative analytical protocols ensuring international leadership in the field of planetary geochemistry. Our current focus is on understanding the history of water and other associated volatiles in inner Solar System material using a combination of geochemical and isotopic fingerprinting techniques involving elements such as H, C, N, O, Pb and U.

Specific project details to be offered for 2019 start will be listed here. 

Current/recent research projects

  • History and evolution of volatiles in the earth-Moon system
  • Volatiles in the Earth-Moon system, a stable isotope perspective
  • The abundance and isotopic composition of water in Howardite-Eucrite-Diogenite (HED) meteorites and implications for the volatile inventory of the Earth-Moon system
  • Probing the Martian surface 2 billion years ago through the light element geochemistry of NWA 7034
  • Practical in-situ resource utilization of lunar volatiles
  • Quantifying the effects of X-ray computed tomography on cached Mars Sample Return (MSR) analogues

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.