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

Our unique approach to the scientific aspects of astrobiology research combines fieldwork, laboratory simulations, thermochemical modelling and in situ observations. Our primary objectives are:

  • To determine the physico-chemical characteristics of extraterrestrial environments that have the potential for habitability
  • Understand the formation of unique and detectable biosignatures that can be used to inform ongoing and future mission planning, and the reduction of mission data
  • Undertake studies to inform planetary protection regulations and procedures for future life detection missions and other space activities.

To address these objectives, we draw on knowledge and techniques from a range of science disciplines, such as microbiology, organic geochemistry, minerology, planetary science and instrument development. We have world class planetary simulation facilities, which are part of Europlanet – a European Infrastructure project – and we use terrestrial field locations as analogues for extraterrestrial environments.

We study the feasibility of habitable environments existing elsewhere in the Solar System and how life could exist in such environments. We use this information to identify bio-signatures that could be used as evidence of life. Our work is fundamental for understanding the conditions in other planetary environments, which can inform future life detection missions, and is crucial for understanding the data (or samples) returned by such missions.

Members of the team are involved in international astrobiology-related exploration activities including the NASA Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the ESA ExoMars programme, the ESA Expose missions.

Researchers span both the School of Physical Science and The School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences.

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

  • Understanding the limits of microbial life
  • Microbe-mineral interactions in extreme environments
  • Determination of biosignatures created by life
  • Detection of biosignatures created by life
  • Theoretical and laboratory studies of habitable conditions on other planetary surfaces
  • Evaluation of specific environments through thermochemical modelling
  • Detection of organic molecules in habitable or analogue environments

Current/recent research projects

Our current research projects include:

  • From the Colorado Plateau to beyond Earth: using magmatic intrusions into sulphate-rich sediments as analogue for planetary habitable environments.
  • The limits of habitability for microbial life under icy moon conditions
  • Biogeochemical cycling in acidic hydrothermal environments
  • Carbon cycling in the subsurface environment of Enceladus
  • Habitability of saline environments on Mars
  • Impact and heat processing of Mars' Moon Phobos
  • Biogeochemistry in the deep sub-surface environment: the key for finding potential life on Mars
  • The feasibility of in situ VOC analysis on icy moons.
  • Biosignature modification in the Oxia Planum region.
  • Biosignatures for life detection on Mars

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

Some of our research students are funded via Doctoral Training Partnerships; others are self-funded.

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

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


Ice covered moon

How to apply

Get in touch

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

Email: AstrobiologyOU

Apply now

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