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E4 NERC Weathering of Clays under Extreme Conditions: Implications for the Biosphere and Extraterrestrial Environments

School of Chemistry

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Dr V Erastova No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

A fully-funded for 3.5 years PhD studentship is available in the group of Dr Valentina Erastova at the School of Chemistry, co-supervised by Prof Charles Cockell at the School of Physics and Astronomy, the University of Edinburgh.

Project Summary
Combining molecular modeling and experiments to build an understanding of weathering of minerals on ancient Earth and extraterrestrial environments, and its effect on the evolution of carbon-cycles and habitability of planets.

Earth’s atmosphere, water and biological activity can lead to weathering of rocks, creating new minerals and releasing nutrients into the environment. This process has been changing through the history of Earth, playing a role in compositions of soils, affecting the current biosphere and likely creating conditions for the origin of life and its evolution. Weathering is not unique to Earth and also occurs on other planets.

Molecular modelling is a powerful tool, allowing us to travel back in time and space and gain atomistic-resolution insights into the effects of ancient conditions or processes involving unattainable or rare extra-terrestrial minerals. Through modeling we can test hypotheses, explain and guide experiments.

In this project, we aim to understand the behaviour of clay minerals present on Earth and Mars under various, often extreme, environmental conditions. To this end, we will use molecular modeling to study ion exchange between range of clays under a variety of temperatures, pressures, salinities and acidities. Computational studies will be coupled with laboratory weathering experiments. Together, the results will be used to inform and predict the effects on the habitability for life and evolution of carbon-cycles.
The project is extremely timely with current space missions, aimed at getting insights into history of our planet and highlighting possibilities of the existence of life beyond Earth. It 1) bridges the gap in understanding how minerals influence the physical and biological environments, 2) promotes and develops molecular modeling of clays, as a non-destructive methodology for the study of sparse samples, and 3) brings the fundamental understanding of physicochemical weathering process at any/extreme conditions.

Full Project Description

Further information about the E4 DTP

More information about research in the group

Informal enquiries should be directed to Dr Valentina Erastova

Funding Notes

Funding and Eligibility

The studentship is fully-funded for 42 month (incl. home/international fees, research costs and UKRI stipend, currently at £15,285 per annum) and is part of the E4 Doctoral Training Partnership.

For further details see Entry and Eligibility
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