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Solar System formation and planetary evolution

We are an active grouping of almost 20 members, including academics, researchers and postgraduate research students. We use a range of cutting-edge laboratory instrumentation to investigate the mineralogical, geochemical and isotopic signatures of the dust and organic material present at the birth of the Solar System (now contained in extra-terrestrial samples of cometary, asteroidal and interplanetary dust) and planetary materials to investigate how this material evolved during the early stages of planetary accretion, planetesimal formation 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. 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, in addition to our own extensive collection.

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, Rosetta), and on-going (e.g. OSIRIS-REx) missions. 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.