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How Do Minerals and Melts Transport Energy in Earth’s Deep Interior?

   School of Geosciences

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  Dr Stewart McWilliams, Prof K Whaler  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


The transport properties of minerals and melts and high pressure and temperature govern Earth’s thermal evolution. In this project you will use high pressure, high temperature and high speed experiments to measure the transport behaviour of Earth’s deep interior. This PhD project is jointly supervised by the School of Physics and Astronomy and the School of GeoSciences.

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Project background

The Earth began as a hot, molten ball and cooled for 4.5 billion years to reach its present state. During this time rocks solidified; water concentrated on the surface; and the Earth’s magnetic field arose sustained by the slow cooling of the metallic core. Central to knowing Earth’s history – and its future – is an understanding of how heat flows from the interior to the surface. This thermal energy release fuels plate tectonics, Earth’s dynamo, volcanoes, and other natural phenomena that control the evolution and survival of life. 

For this project, you will study how Earth materials – metals such as iron alloys, and minerals such as Bridgmanite – transport heat and flow whilst at the high pressures and temperatures of Earth’s interior. You will use the most advanced techniques for high pressure, high temperature and high speed experiments to probe these dynamics, using optical measurements in local Edinburgh laboratories and modern X-ray facilities at international locales.

This studentship is supported by the European Research Council project TRIREME (Transport in the Interior of Earth from Modelling and Experiments). Through your experiments you will solve longstanding mysteries about Earth’s past and future, and those of other planets, and gain highly portable expertise in cutting edge technology and laboratory techniques.

Research questions

BIG Science Question: How to do the transport properties of minerals and melts, such as thermal and electrical conductivity, and viscosity, dictate the dynamics of the Earth. Specific objectives include:

  1. Determining the longevity and strength of Earth’s magnetic field.
  2. Establishing the age of the inner core.
  3. Understanding Earth’s interior structure and temperature.
  4. Testing first principles theories on the behaviour of matter at extreme conditions.
  5. Take advantage of cutting edge experimental facilities such as Free Electron Lasers and novel techniques to make transformative studies about Earth’s dynamics.


The student will use the diamond anvil cell high pressure device to generate extreme pressures, and various heating methodologies to create high temperatures, using dynamic observations to study heat transport, electrical transport, and fluid flow inside the high pressure samples. These measurements will be integrated with computational finite element models for the sample dynamics to understand measurement quality and extract values of direct relevance to Earth’s interior. Finally the measurements will be coupled with Earth observations (e.g. past and present magnetic field) and geodynamic and magnetohydrodynamic theories and models to establish the implications for Earth’s interior.


As part of the ERC project and via the supervisory team you will receive a comprehensive training programme that includes specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills. Specialist training will include: (1) high pressure, high temperature, high speed techniques and (2) optical and X-ray laboratory methods including cutting-edge Free Electron Laser techniques.


The successful candidate will have a degree in the physical sciences and most likely geophysics, physics, or chemistry with a strong interest in experimental work.  No prior computing experience is necessary but demonstrated knowledge of coding for data handling and analysis would be useful (e.g., Python) as well as willingness to travel abroad to analyse samples.

Funding Notes

This project is funded by an ERC grant that covers a 3.5 year stipend and UK fees only. We however welcome international applicants, efforts will be made to find additional funding to cover the fee difference.

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