Birkbeck, University of London Featured PhD Programmes
Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
University of Kent Featured PhD Programmes
The Francis Crick Institute Featured PhD Programmes
European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Heidelberg) Featured PhD Programmes

Planetary protection and the search for life in the outer solar system (ref: SF18/APP/Pearce)

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  • Full or part time
    Prof D Pearce
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

The search for life in the outer solar system is centred on the search for water and the conditions which are known to support the ‘envelope of life’ on Earth. However, in undertaking missions to search for signs of life it is important that the target bodies are not forward contaminated (i.e. that the spacecraft don’t ‘seed’ the life that they seek) and that the Earth is not back contaminated (i.e. if there is life, that our spacecraft do not return potentially harmful or hazardous cargos). This is the subject of planetary protection and is receiving increasing attention with the prospect of new human missions to the moon and Mars, and the potential for future sample return missions to the icy moons (Europa, Gannymede, Calisto, Titan and Enceladus).
In this project, we will use microbial models and simulations to determine the factors that aid survival during space flight, to look at the environmental factors that might aid or inhibit the colonization of astronauts, spacecraft and planetary bodies and contribute valuable scientific data to the growing debate on best practice for planetary protection.
The work will develop skills in microbiology and microbial ecology, simulations and modelling and will include extensive periods of fieldwork in the Arctic.
Other members of the research group use microbiology (and in particular novel molecular techniques applied to microbial ecology, microbial biodiversity and activity, environmental genomics, biogeochemical cycling and model extremophiles) to understand extreme ecosystem function and the potential for shifts in biogeochemical activity that may result from environmental change. This has involved the development of new frontiers of research in metagenomics, chemosynthetic communities, sediment sequestration of carbon and subglacial lake environments and used new interdisciplinary approaches for the aerial environment (with chemists), ice nucleation activity (with physicists) and in the biogeochemistry of ice (with glaciologists).

Eligibility and How to Apply:
Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications should include a covering letter that includes a short summary (500 words max.) of a relevant piece of research that you have previously completed. Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. SF18/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 1st July 2019 for October 2019 start, or 1st December 2018 for March 2019 start
Start Date: October or March

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality and is a member of the Euraxess network, which delivers information and support to professional researchers

Funding Notes

This studentship is only open to self-funding candidates. Self-funding candidates are expected to pay University fees and to provide their own living costs. University fee bands are shown at
Projects in Applied Sciences are typically costed at Band 3 or Band 4.


Petra Rettberg, Alexandre M. Anesio, Victor R. Baker, John A. Baross, Sherry L. Cady, Emmanouil Detsis, Christine M. Foreman, Ernst Hauber, Gian Gabriele Ori, David A. Pearce, Nilton O. Renno, Gary Ruvkun, Birgit Sattler, Mark P. Saunders, David H. Smith, Dirk Wagner, Frances Westall, 2016, 'Planetary Protection and Mars Special Regions—A Suggestion for Updating the Definition', Astrobiology, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 119-125

Pearce DA, Magiopoulos I, Mowlem M, Tranter M, Holt G, Woodward J, Siegert MJ. (2016) Microbiology: lessons from a first attempt at Lake Ellsworth. Phil. Trans. R.Soc. A 374: 20140291.

Keith Makinson, David Pearce, Dominic A. Hodgson, Michael J. Bentley, Andrew M. Smith, Martyn Tranter, Mike Rose, Neil Ross, Matt Mowlem, John Parnell, Martin J. Siegert (2016). Clean subglacial access: prospects for future deep hot-water drilling. Phil. Trans. R.Soc. A DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2014.0304

Committee to Review the MEPAG Report on Mars Special Regions, a joint activity between the Academies and the European Science Foundation (ESF). (2015). Review of the MEPAG Report on Mars Special Regions.

Zwirglmaier, Katrin; Reid, William D. K.; Heywood, Jane; Sweeting, Christopher J.; Wigham, Benjamin D.; Polunin, Nicholas V.C.; Hawkes, Jeff A.; Connelly, Douglas P.; Pearce, David; Linse, Katrin. (2014). Linking regional variation of epibiotic bacterial diversity and trophic ecology in a new species of Kiwaidae (Decapoda, Anomura) from East Scotia Ridge (Antarctica) hydrothermal vents. MicrobiologyOpen, Early View. 10.1002/mbo3.227

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2019
All rights reserved.