PhD Studentship: Developments of technologies and techniques for in situ rover-based 40Ar/39Ar dating of Mars

PhD Studentship: Developments of technologies and techniques for in situ rover-based 40Ar/39Ar dating of Mars

Issued: Mon, 23 May 2016 09:00:00 BST

Fully funded PhD studentship – UK Space Agency


Studentship supervision team: Dr Darren F. Mark (SUERC), Prof. Martin Lee (University of Glasgow), Sanjeev Gupta (Imperial College) and Thermo Scientific (Bremen, Germany).


Project background: Both Orbiter and Rover missions have documented a complex stratigraphy for Mars that likely spans the entire history of the planet. Accurate and precise determination of timescales is critical for understanding the evolution of Mars, and is essential to future mission planning (e.g., sampling of materials for caching and return). Work on Martian meteorites, rock samples blasted from the surface of Mars during hypervelocity impacts, has yielded significant advances in our understanding of the evolution of planet but their provenance is unknown. Age constraints on specific planetary surfaces have been obtained using their impact history by techniques such as crater counting, which is reliant on calibrations to lunar cratering models and the analysis of the limited sample sets returned from Apollo and Luna missions. In recent years there have been a series of proposals to launch chronology-specific Rover-based packages to conduct in situ dating of Mars. This goal was recently achieved (in the broadest sense) by Farley et al. (2014) using the existing SAM technology on the Curiosity Rover to make an ad hoc a K-Ar age for a mudstone from the floor of Gale Crater. However, to make accurate rover-based in situ measurements on Mars (and indeed other planetary, lunar, asteroid surfaces) new mass spectrometer technologies are required, as are new techniques and models to allow interrogation of the degassing of materials that contain mixtures of different K-bearing mineral components (e.g., Martian regolith).


Project aims: This multi-disciplinary PhD studentship brings together academic and industrial researchers to: [1] design and develop a miniaturised noble gas mass spectrometer for rover-based deployment; [2] invert the model of VanLaningham & Mark (2011) to resolve the age of the mineralogical end members of fine-grained sedimentary rocks, such as those found in Gale Crater, using high-resolution 40Ar/39Ar geochronology and a series of terrestrial analogues; [3] collect new high-resolution 40Ar/39Ar data from the Martian meteorite (regolith) ‘Black Beauty’ (NWA 8079) and employ the inverted model to resolve the ages of end member age components within the meteorite.


Key outcomes: Innovation is critical for future missions to Mars and will be at the forefront of the work the student will conduct. Design and development of a miniaturised noble gas mass spectrometer is key for initiatives such as the UK Space Agency funded KHRONOS project as well as future proposed NASA and ESA missions. A positive outcome from the analytical component of the project will tell us that quantitative information can be extracted from 40Ar/39Ar dating of sedimentary rocks and can be used to: (1) constrain depositional ages of sediments, and (2) constrain the age of source areas that deliver detritus to sedimentary basins – critical information if we are to understand the surface evolution of Mars and other planets, moons and asteroids. Development of robust temporal frameworks for the evolution of other planets is critical for underpinning future rover missions that aim to look for evidence of past life beyond Earth.


About you: We are seeking dynamic candidates with strong background (Under-graduate/Masters degree) in Physics, Engineering or Earth Science. The student must be mathematically competent, capable of developing complex numerical models/simulations and be able to function across a range of disciplines.


The project is fully funded by the UK Space Agency. The eligibility criteria restrict the project to UK residents, or candidates from the EU who have lived here for the last 3 years (e.g., a recent graduate).


The Studentship will be based at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre in East Kilbride, Scotland with significant time spent at Thermo Scientific (Bremen, Germany).


Applications can be made through the University of Glasgow website.

Please specify ‘PhD at SUERC’ during the application procedure.


Please contact Dr Darren Mark for further information.


Closing date for applications is Thursday 30th June 2016 for enrolment in October 2016.



VanLaningham, S. and Mark, D.F. (2011) Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 75:2324-2335. link

Farley, K., et al. (2014) Science


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