Astrobiology and habitats for life

Qualifications Duration Start dates Application period
(MPhil also available)
Full time: 3–4 years
Part time: 6–8 years
February and October January to April
PhD (MPhil also available)
Full time: 3–4 years
Part time: 6–8 years
Start dates
February and October
Application period
January to April

Working closely with members of the AstrobiologyOU research area, we use a variety of experimental techniques, including molecular biology, mineralogy and geochemistry, and 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, whether they leave behind biosignatures that could be used for life detection, and survivability of such biosignatures after impact shock events.

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 the understanding of 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.

Entry requirements

Minimum 2:1 undergraduate degree (or equivalent). If you are not a UK citizen, you may need to prove your knowledge of English.

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
  • Detecting potential biosignatures in cryovolcanic plumes at Enceladus and other ocean worlds

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
  • Impact and heat processing of Mars’s moon Phobos
  • Biosignature modification in the Oxia Planum region of 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

Fees and funding

UK fee International fee
Full time: £4,786 per year Full time: £15,698 per year
Part time: £2,393 per year Part time: £7,849 per year

Our research students are funded via many sources, including: industry, Doctoral Training Partnerships, the EU, self-funding, and faculty funded studentships.

For detailed information about fees and funding, visit Fees and studentships.

To see current funded studentship vacancies across all research areas, see Current studentships.


An image to illustrate astrobiology and habitats for life

How to apply

Get in touch

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

Administrative support
Email: Astrobiology research
Phone: +44 (0)1908 853253

Apply now

If you’re interested in applying for this research topic, please take a look at the application process.