Research course

Solar System Formation

Open University · School of Physical Sciences

Entry requirements

Minimum 2:1 (or equivalent) in geoscience or relevant natural sciences or analytical science disciplines

Months of entry

February, October

Course content

We are an active grouping of almost 20 members, including academics, researchers and postgraduate research students, based in the School of Physical Sciences. We use a range of cutting-edge laboratory instrumentation to investigate the geochemical and isotopic signatures of the dust and organic material present at the birth of the Solar System (now contained in extraterrestrial samples of cometary, asteroidal and interplanetary dust) and how this material evolved during the early stages of planetary accretion 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. 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), on-going (e.g. Rosetta) and future (e.g. OSIRIS-REx) missions.

Potential research projects

  • Oxygen isotope reservoirs in the early solar system
  • Origin of organic matter in cometary dust
  • Comparative laboratory study of materials returned to Earth from asteroid Itokawa with particles collected in the stratosphere
  • The fate of volatiles in the hot inner disk

Projects mainly involve detailed laboratory investigations of extraterrestrial samples using the latest generation of analytical instruments such as mass spectrometers, 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.

Current/recent research projects

  • Secrets of core formation recorded in iron meteorites
  • Igneous activity in the early solar system
  • Just how fast are the rapid cooling rates of chondrules?
  • Physical and chemical properties of matrix in primitive chondrites
  • The volatile inventory of differentiated meteorites

Potential supervisors

Department specialisms

- Oxygen isotope reservoirs in the early solar system - Origin of organic matter in cometary dust - Secrets of core formation recorded in iron meteorites - The fate of volatiles in the hot inner disk

Fees and funding

Please see The Open University website

Qualification, course duration and attendance options

  • PhD
    part time
    72 months
      full time
      48 months
      • MPhil
        full time
        15 months
          part time
          24 months

          Course contact details

          Administrative support

          +44 (0)1908 858253