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Isotopic tracers of geological processes in soils collected from the Moon

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

About the Project

Project overview: The European Space Agency is sending an experiment package called PROSPECT to the Moon on the Luna 27 mission. The mission will analyse soils and determine the abundance and isotopic composition of light elements and noble gases using a mass spectrometer package called ProSPA. It is expected that the lander will visit a south polar site, in a region that is made up of feldspathic highlands crustal material. In preparation for the science of this mission, and to understand impact mixing processes in the lunar highlands, this project will investigate volatile elements and noble gases in different types of soil (regolith) samples collected from the surface of the Moon.

Project summary: The project goals are to determine how the upper portion of the highlands regolith has been disturbed by impact events, when these disturbances occurred, characterise interactions between the Moon and the space environment, and investigate the source(s) of volatiles in the lunar regolith. Findings will provide evidence for the recent impact history of the Moon and the evolution of the regolith, which are both high priority lunar science goals, and will assist in planning surface science activities for the PROSPECT mission Science Team (of which Drs Joy and Tartese are team members).

To meet these objectives the project will investigate the exposure record (i.e., space weathering and volatile element budget) of different types of lunar regolith samples from the nearside of the Moon (including Apollo Moon rocks). The project will utilise a broad range of analytical facilities such as the scanning electron microscope and electron probe microanalysis instruments, the HELIX mass spectrometer for noble gas analysis, and a new state-of-the-art laser ablation – inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (LA-ICP-MS) hosted in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences ( The student will be given extensive training in a wide range of mass spectrometry techniques for trace element and noble gas isotope analyses, and their application to lunar and planetary materials. There will be an opportunity to work collaboratively with other colleagues involved in the PROSPECT science team on mission preparation activities, so some travel might be required between UK and European centres.

Suggested skills needed: This project would be well suited for candidates with an interest in geochemistry and a background in Earth Sciences and/or Planetary Science.

Application process:

• Read the information on the DEES webpage to ensure that you understand the funding eligibility requirements for the award.
• Contact the supervisors to discuss your interest in the project – this is an essential step so that you can ask questions and find out more about the supervisory team before you apply.
• Your application must be made online at
• The applications received will be reviewed by the project supervisory team and they will put forward their preferred candidates for a panel review process. An STFC DTP academic panel will then review all the nominated students and decide who to shortlist for an interview. An interview will take place so that the panel can meet the short-listed candidates and decide who to offer the studentship to. The interview normally is about 20-30 minutes and on the interview day you will have a chance to visit the department and group research facilities and meet with our current STFC students and staff. Candidates are normally informed within a few days of the interview if they have been offered a studentship.

Please contact and to discuss the project.

Funding Notes

This is a 3.5 year STFC-funded studentship.

Funding eligibility
Please see the link below for more information about funding eligibility:
View Website

We particularly welcome applications from students from under-represented groups.


PROSPECT mission
Barber, S. J., I. P. Wright, F. Abernethy, M. Anand, K. R. Dewar, M. Hodges, P. Landsberg et al. (2018) "ProSPA: analysis of lunar polar volatiles and ISRU demonstration on the Moon." LPI 2083: 2172.

Bogard and Hirsch (1976) Noble gases in 60009-60010 drive tube samples - Trapped gases and irradiation history. Proc. Lunar Sci. Conf. 7th, 259-279.

Carpenter et al. (2017) PROSPECT: ESA's Package For Resource Observation And In-Situ Prospecting For Exploration, Commercial Exploitation And Transportation. 48th Lunar Planet. Sci. Conf., Abstract #2514.

Curran N., M. Nottingham, L. Alexander, I. A. Crawford, E. Fueri, and K. H. Joy (2020) Database of Noble Gases in Lunar Samples in Preparation for Mass Spectrometry on the Moon. Planetary and Space Science Vol. 182, 104823.

Korotev et al. (1997) Lithological variation with depth and decoupling of maturity parameters in Apollo 16 regolith core 68001/2. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 61, 2989-3002.
Lucey et al. (2006) Understanding the lunar surface and Space-Moon interactions. In New Views of the Moon, eds. B. L. Jolliff, M. A. Wieczorek, C. K. Shearer, and C. R. Neal, Rev. Mineral. Geochem. 60, 83-219.

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