Planetary formation and evolution

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

We are a thriving community of 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 variety 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.

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

  • 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)
  • 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. 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.

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.

Current/recent research projects

  • History and evolution of volatiles in the Earth-Moon system
  • Insights into lunar volatile resources through analysis of new samples
  • Enstatite Chondrites – An Inner Solar System Source of Volatiles for the Terrestrial Planets?
  • 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
  • Venus: petrological-geophysical modelling of the crust to understand tesserae composition
  • Carbonates in Ungrouped Carbonaceous Chondrites

Potential supervisors

Fees and funding

UK fee International fee
Full time: £4,712 per year Full time: £15,456 per year
Part time: £2,356 per year Part time: £7,584 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.


Laboratory equipment

How to apply

Get in touch

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

Administrative support
Email: STEM-SPS-PhD-Admin
Phone: +44 (0)1908 659721

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