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Solar System formation

Research solar system formation with the Open University

We are an active grouping of almost 20 members, including academics, researchers and postgraduate research students, based in the School of Physical Sciences. We use a range of cutting-edge laboratory instrumentation to investigate the geochemical and isotopic signatures of the dust and organic material present at the birth of the Solar System (now contained in extraterrestrial samples of cometary, asteroidal and interplanetary dust) and how this material evolved during the early stages of planetary accretion and differentiation. Our facilities include unique (e.g. high sensitivity C, N, noble gas mass spectrometer system) and world-leading (e.g. oxygen 3-isotope laser fluorination system; NanoSIMS 50L) instruments as well as many more routine instruments (e.g. Raman, analytical SEM) that permit detailed investigation of such complex materials. A major focus is on investigating the origin and distribution of the astrobiologically important light volatile elements (e.g., H, C, N, O). Most of our research is carried out in collaboration with planetary scientists, each of whom has an international reputation and is actively involved in a wide range of planetary missions such that the results from our projects contribute towards, and benefit from, recent (e.g. Stardust, Hayabusa), on-going (e.g. Rosetta) and future (e.g. OSIRIS-REx) missions.

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 or analytical science disciplines

Potential research projects

  • Isotope reservoirs in the early solar system
  • Origin of organic matter in primitive materials
  • Preparation for returned samples (lunar, asteroidal)
  • The role of volatiles in the protoplanetary disc

Projects mainly involve detailed laboratory investigations of extraterrestrial samples using the latest generation of analytical instruments such as mass spectrometers, 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.

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

Current/recent research projects

  • Just how fast are the rapid cooling rates of chondrules?
  • Physical and chemical properties of matrix in primitive chondrites
  • Untangling the earliest stages of planetary differentiation
  • Unravelling the secrets of early Solar System processes through laboratory investigations of regolith from a C type asteroid

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.