Planetary and Space Sciences
Research in planetary and space science (PSS) covers a wide variety of Solar System science and exploration. We investigate the origin and evolution of the Solar System through the physical, geological, chemical and biological processes that drive it. We use laboratory and space mission experiments, remote observation, environmental simulation and modelling to investigate the surfaces and atmospheres of the terrestrial planets, moons, asteroids, comets and extraterrestrial materials.
PSS has a long history of involvement in Solar System exploration through the exploitation of instruments developed at the OU and through international collaborative teams. PSS members are active in the development of new mission proposals and studies with ESA, other space agencies and national programmes. In addition we make use of international ground- and space-based observatories as well as in-house laboratory and simulation facilities. Research students are involved in all aspects of PSS research.
PSS has a long history of involvement in major Solar System exploration missions through the exploitation of instruments developed at the OU, such as on Cassini Huygens, Stardust, Genesis, Rosetta and ExoMars, and through international collaborative teams such as BepiColombo and JUICE. PSS members are active in the development of new mission proposals and studies with ESA, other space agencies and national programmes. In addition we make use of international ground- and space-based observatories in-house laboratory and simulation facilities. Research students are involved in all aspects of PSS research.
- We provide an interdisciplinary environment with around 50 staff including about 20 postgraduate students.
- We were part of the The Open University's B9 (Physics) submission to the, 2021 Research Excellence Framework with 88% of our submission (including more than 91% of Outputs and 100% of Environment) assessed as being of 4* or 3* quality.
- We offer student access to unparalleled laboratory facilities for analysis of extraterrestrial samples.
- Opportunities to work with experienced researchers on active space and planetary missions.
- Many large grants from a wide range of funding agencies.
- Studentships funded by STFC and other sources available each year.
Most of our full-time research students are based at our Milton Keynes campus; for details of residence requirements for different modes of study see Full-time study and Part-time study.
Students are equipped with portable laptops (rather than desktop PCs), with enhanced specifications for those needing to run GIS or modelling software.
Our extensive laboratory facilities are broadly subdivided into those used to characterise the chemistry and isotopic composition of matter in the Solar System or the simulation of Earth and Planetary processes. Instruments include state-of-the-art commercially sourced (e.g., NanoSIMS;FIB-SEM; laser Raman microprobe; MS and GC-MS) as well as unique instruments developed in-house (e.g., ‘Finesse’ mass spectrometer; Mars atmosphere and surface simulation chambers; Cometary surface simulation chamber; All-Angle Light Gas Gun). These are backed up by clean rooms and sample preparation facilities, instrument development laboratories and an extensive meteorite collection. Students also have access to analytical facilities across the faculty, as well as the University research computer cluster.
Our PhD graduates have gone on to build successful research careers internationally or applied their skills to industry, the Civil Service or education. You will exit as an accredited scientist with practical, analytical, IT and communication skills appropriate to your field of study, experience of interaction with fellow scientists, and findings published (or ready to publish) in peer reviewed literature. This can unlock many career paths.
I appreciate the freedom granted to us as OU PhD students. Your project is your research, you can tailor its trajectory in a way that suits you. I find supervisors to be communicative and ready to support when needed. This kind of flexibility makes it easy to stay motivated. The opportunities to be involved with outreach initiatives and exploring the equality and diversity implications of my research are particularly rewarding.
Annie Lennox3rd year PhD Student, Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics