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   Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

  Dr Joshua Snape, Dr David Neave,  Monday, February 06, 2023  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project will investigate the evolution of rocky planets, with a particular focus on investigating how evolving magma oceans produce the source regions from which different suites of planetary rock samples are ultimately derived. In order to better constrain the nature and timing of magma ocean crystallisation, you will use experimental petrology to simulate the temperature and pressure conditions of evolving magma oceans. You will investigate how key trace elements are distributed between mineral phases formed in these magma oceans. New insights into the partitioning behaviour of trace elements will be combined with previously published models that describe the proportions of mineral phases formed as magma oceans crystallise. In doing so, you will make predictions about the chemical and isotopic characteristics of different mantle source regions found within differentiated planetary bodies, to explain the origin of lithologies sampled by magmatism on the Earth, Moon and elsewhere in our Solar System. A key concept in modern planetary science is that of “magma oceans”. Originally developed to explain lunar samples returned by the Apollo missions [1], this idea has since been applied to planetary bodies throughout the Solar System [2]. Following the formation of a metallic core, the remaining silicate magma crystallises, and in the process creates the mantle sources from which the different types of rocks that comprise an evolved planetary body are derived. Despite the general success of the magma ocean hypothesis, there are a number of uncertainties relating to how magma oceans evolve, the range of compositions seen in different rock suites within planetary bodies, and the durations over which magma oceans crystallise.

Using the constraints from recent studies [3-4], you will generate synthetic analogues of magma ocean compositions from oxide powders and trace element solutions. These will then be used in piston cylinder and gas-mixing furnace experiments simulating the pressure and temperature conditions at different stages of magma ocean crystallisation. You will use scanning electron microscopy (SEM), electron microprobe analysis (EPMA) and laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) to analyse the resulting experiment run products and investigate the mineral phases produced. These datasets will be used to constrain the partitioning behaviour of different trace elements within those phases, with a particular focus on elements from key radiogenic isotope systems (e.g. U, Pb, Rb, Sr, Sm, Nd, Lu, Hf and W).

You will build on research already underway in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences [5], using your results to calculate the range of trace element and isotopic compositions expected in different magma ocean products. You will work with researchers in the Department to compare these predictions with analyses of different planetary samples and develop new models explaining how such samples were formed. Focusing on radiogenic isotope systems will provide the opportunity to construct time-dependent models, which can help address long-standing problems such as the duration of lunar magma ocean crystallisation and the timing of Moon formation.

This project would be well suited for candidates with an interest in geochemistry and experimental petrology and a background (BSc or MSc) in geology or physical sciences. Practical experience with experiments (particularly piston cylinder press experiments) or sample analysis is desirable. Please contact or to discuss further details about the project.

Application process –

·        You are applying for a fully funded PhD project for which, if you are successful in your application, you would receive a monthly stipend, have the university fees paid for, and be awarded some money to support lab costs and travel.

·        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 formal application must be made online at (please note you will not need to upload your own research proposal for this project during this stage of the application as you are applying for a specific project). In your application, we want to see how your experience is relevant to the project that you have applied for. Please ensure that the people you have asked to submit references for you do this by the requested date. You are applying for an STFC-funded project (PhD STFC Earth and Environmental Sciences). Please check with the project supervisor(s) that your application has been received by the university a few days before the deadline.

·        As this is a funded position, the application process is competitive. The applications received will be initially 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 with shortlisted candidates will then take place remotely so that the panel can meet the short-listed candidates and decide who to offer the studentship to. The interview normally lasts about 20-30 minutes. Candidates are normally informed within a few days of the interview if they have been offered a funded studentship. If you are offered a studentship, you are more than welcome to come and visit the department and group research facilities and meet with our current STFC students and staff. Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact. We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status. We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder).All appointments are made on merit.

Funding Notes

Funding will cover UK tuition fee and stipend at current UKRI standard rate for a September 2023 start. The University of Manchester aims to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK. We are able to offer a limited number of scholarships that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


• [1] Wood, J.A., Dickey, J.S., Jr., Marvin, U.B., Powell, B.N., 1970. Lunar Anorthosites. Science 167, 602–604.
• [2] Elkins-Tanton, L.T., 2012. Magma Oceans in the Inner Solar System. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 40, 113–139.
• [3] Rapp, J.F., Draper, D.S., 2018. Fractional crystallization of the lunar magma ocean: Updating the dominant paradigm. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 53, 1432–1455.
• [4] Johnson, T.E., Morrissey, L.J., Nemchin, A.A., Gardiner, N.J., Snape, J.F., 2021. The phases of the Moon: Modelling crystallisation of the lunar magma ocean through equilibrium thermodynamics. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 556, 116721.
• [5] Snape, J.F., Nemchin, A.A., Johnson, T., Luginbühl, S., Berndt, J., Klemme, S., Morrissey, L.J., van Westrenen, W., 2022. Experimental constraints on the long-lived radiogenic isotope evolution of the Moon. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 326, 119–148.

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