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Earth and Environmental Materials at Extreme Conditions: Recycling Light Elements through Earth

Project Description

A fully funded PhD studentship is available to start August 2020 to work with Simon Redfern on the mechanisms of light element incorporation into the minerals that make up Earth’s interior and other related materials. The answers are key to understanding volcanic processes and hazards in nearby island arcs such as Indonesia as well as globally. There are further implications for understanding the routes to CO2 and other gas incorporation into environmental materials, with potential applications in CO2 remediation in response to global carbon emissions. Candidates will have freedom to frame their project according to their particular interests.

The ten most common elements in the Milky Way - hydrogen (H), helium (He), oxygen (O), carbon (C), neon (Ne), iron (Fe), nitrogen (N), silicon (Si), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S) - are of great interest in geoscience. The importance of this to Earth is that Earth is formed from the same cloud of matter that formed the Sun, with a similar (or related) ratio of major elements. A key, unresolved question, though, is the location and of abundant elements in the crystalline structure of the bulk deep Earth and their influence on solid Earth properties. At the surface, certain of these elements are also important because volatiles (H, C, O, N, S etc.) are a major constituent of the atmosphere-hydrosphere system and the basis of life (e.g. DNA). Heating during planetary formation in the early solar system means that the ratio of these elements in Earth is altered. The less-volatile elements, Si, Mg and Fe, are rock-forming, making up mantle and core. But the atomic location of other “abundant elements” in the crystalline minerals of the deep Earth is less well understood. These projects will use high-pressure (diamond anvil cell, multi-anvil press and piston cylinder) apparatus and experimental and computational mineral physics to identify how common minerals absorb whole oceans or atmospheres worth of these elements in their structures.

Spectroscopic and diffraction methods will be used to investigate mineral and materials behaviour at extreme conditions. Collaboration with groups in Cambridge University as well as at national synchrotron and neutron laboratories in Europe, Asia and North America will be encouraged.

The project will suit well-qualified geoscientists, physicists, materials scientists or chemists.

To apply go to

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentship available for four years support. Open to all nationalities (and Singaporean candidates are particularly welcomed).

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