Space Chemistry: Exploring our chemical origins and habitability

How did life begin? Is it common or rare across the Universe ? Can life on Earth survive elsewhere in the Solar system?

These questions are amongst the most challenging in modern Science and all require an understanding of the physical and chemical processes that are necessary for the synthesis and survival of those molecules necessary for life in what appears to be an inhospitable environment (high levels of radiation, low temperature and high vacuum). Such questions require a combination of observation, laboratory investigations and models.

In this project we will develop experimental simulations of space environments to explore the different physical and chemical processes induced by star light, cosmic radiation thermal cycling and shock waves to explore molecular synthesis in the InterStellar Medium (ISM) and on planetary surfaces. Particular emphasis will be placed upon the study of those prebiotic compounds that are necessary for the evolution of biomolecules preceding origins of life and the role of surfaces (dust grains in ISM, minerals on planetary surfaces) as catalysts for such molecular formation.

In this project you will join largest international network of laboratory simulation facilities, observational facilities (including the JWST) and models to study molecular synthesis within the space environment.

Your project will involve extensive periods at Atomki centre in Hungary and the Dalton Cumbrian Facility in the UK whose accelerators produce beams of ions used to mimic cosmic rays. You will also perform experiments in the new astrochemistry and origins of life laboratory at Kent where UV light and beams of electrons irradiated analogues of space ices and a wide range of analytical facilities are used to monitor the products of such synthesis.

For further details and discussion contact Prof. Nigel Mason (