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Design and prototyping a compact spectrometer for monitoring atmospheric CH4 from space. EPSRC CASE studentship

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  • Full or part time
    Prof P Palmer
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

Project Background
Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas emitted in equal measures from
natural and anthropogenic sources. Fugitive emissions represent an unquantified source of CH4 to
the atmosphere. These include, for example, natural gas and oil extraction (via the wells and leaks
along the pipelines), unconventional gas extraction including fracking (via wells), landfills (via
methanogenesis), and cities (broken main pipes). Locating and repairing these leaks represent a
service to the global environment but also a major financial saving for energy companies. Other
examples of more diffuse fugitive emissions include agriculture (especially livestock) and
permafrost melting, both of which are subject to substantial uncertainties. In this project you will
design a new compact CH4 spectrograph, in collaboration with a multinational aerospace
company, which can be carried on small, unmanned airborne platforms, to address the
measurements required to detect fugitive emissions. We anticipate that the design and
demonstration of such an instrument will underpin future developments in small satellite (e.g.
CubeSat) mission concepts that address greenhouse gas monitoring of international agreements.
The project is split into two parts: 1) identifying precision requirements for different
applications, assess the range of detection methods and instrument concepts, and identify the key
technologies; and 2) develop a theoretical model and experimental design for a proof-of-concept
instrument followed by construction and testing of a laboratory prototype to demonstrate and
evaluate the technology. You will be based at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (Edinburgh),
which is one of the laboratories of the Science & Technology Facilities Council.

You will quantitatively assess current and emerging environmental questions associated with
natural and anthropogenic release of CH4 into the atmosphere, requiring an understanding of the
underlying science. The choice of detection method and instrument concept will require knowledge
of the measurement techniques and of the relationship between the emission and the associated
atmospheric variation, which will require application of an atmospheric transport model.
In the second part of the project, performed in conjunction with the instrumentation engineering
team at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, you will perform the engineering development of
the proposed instrument technology. This will involve optical design of the prototype, performance
modelling, assembly and testing of prototype hardware, and design of experiments to demonstrate
the prototype meets the necessary performance requirements. The final stage will be a critical
evaluation of performance, compared with existing CH4 detection methods, and a proposal for how
the technology can be adapted for use on a small satellite.
Training Computer modelling of surface processes and atmospheric transport of CH4. At the UK
Astronomy Technology Centre, training and guidance will be provided in the use of optical design
software (e.g. Zemax), instrument control software (e.g. LabView), and general computer
modelling of instrument performance.

Requirements. The candidate will have an (minimum 2:1) undergraduate degree in physics or
engineering, be highly numerate, have good laboratory skills, a pragmatic approach, and be able
to work as part of a multi-disciplinary team. Past experience with computer programming and data
analysis would be an advantage but is not essential. Good report writing skills is needed as regular
progress reports are required by the aerospace company.

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 104.98

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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