Research course

Astrobiology and Habits for Life

Open University · Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute - PSSRI

Entry requirements

Minimum 2:1 (or equivalent) in relevant subject (e.g. geochemistry, chemistry or microbiology, dependent on project offered)

Months of entry


Course content

We use a range of experimental techniques, from molecular biology to mineralogy and geochemistry to 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 and whether they leave behind biosignatures that could be used in life detection on, for example, Mars. Projects also use theoretical methods to quantify the conditions on other planetary bodies and their potential to support life, past and present. Our work is used to prepare for future space missions such as Mars sample return.

Current/recent research projects
  • Survival of microorganisms in extreme environments
  • Microbe-mineral interactions and microbial weathering
  • Interplanetary transfer of microorganisms
  • Sequestering of bioessential elements from volcanic rocks
  • Detection of inorganic and organic biosignatures
Projects involve laboratory planetary simulation facilities including UV and near vacuum, and hypervelocity impact as well as aerobic and anaerobic microbiology laboratory facilities. Projects apply a range of geochemical and microbiological analytical techniques.
Potential supervisors

Department specialisms

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 Detection of organic molecules in extraterrestrial samples Please also see further opportunities: Physical sciences Environment, Earth and ecosystems

Fees and funding

Please see The Open University website

Qualification and course duration


distance learning
variable months
part time
72 months
full time
36 months


distance learning
variable months
part time
24 months
full time
15 months

Course contact details

Administrative support
+44 (0)1908 659036