University of Oxford

In a sentence: "I recreate Martian lakes in the lab to see whether key minerals were emitting greenhouse gases that affected the planet's climate 4.0-3.7 billion years ago."

Remote sensing is one way to study planetary surfaces — as I did for my Masters — but I knew if I wanted to really understand Mars I'd need geochemistry too. Hence why I'm currently studying for my PhD in the Experimental Geochemistry Lab in the Department of Earth Sciences.

Under the supervision of Dr Nick Tosca and Professor Ray Pierrehumbert, I'm reconstructing the lake that existed in Gale Crater ~3.7 billion years ago using data collected by NASA's Curiosity rover. By examining certain minerals' formation and the resulting amount of any gaseous by-products, I'm hoping to constrain whether lakes such as Gale's were releasing particular greenhouse gases in climatically potent volumes. Lab work is the first stage (see the video below) but I'm really looking forward to later using remote sensing alongside groundwater modelling to scale these processes up to a global level.

SKILLS

As an upgraded geographer, the ability to learn new skills fast to survive in an Earth Sciences department has been vital! Below I describe several of the most key.

AQUEOUS GEOCHEMISTRY

Conducted in controlled atmosphere glove boxes to simulate the Martian surface. Involves designing and maintaining experiments, intensive monitoring, and the delicate manoeuvring of concentrated acids.

EXPERIMENTAL PETROLOGY

Synthesis of 100% pure fayalite as a proxy for the Martian surface in my experiments. Required use of >1000 ºC furnace, extreme fastidiousness and persistence, and the careful operation of dangerous equipment. 

ANALYTICAL TECHNIQUES

Experience in X-Ray Diffractometry, Scanning Electron Microscopy, and Electron Microprobe analysis.

THERMODYNAMICS

Modelling of experiments in Geochemist's Workbench to identify key conditions; constraining required temperature/oxygen fugacity for fayalite synthesis.


KEY SPECIALISMS

Aqueous geochemistry; Martian limnology; experimental geochemistry; sedimentology; comparative planetology; planetary geology; aqueous thermodynamics.