Research

My research is underpinned by a strong desire to understand the origin and evolution of atmospheres, which means I need to understand the nature of the volatile elements (primarily C-N-Noble gases) in the interior of planets to ascertain how they behave during accretion, differentiation, and during plate-tectonic cycling. The short outlines below provide some details of on-going projects. Please get in touch if you want to collaborate. I’ve raised £792,713 since joining St Andrews in May 2015 (see grants section of my CV).

The Nature of Earth’s Deep Nitrogen Cycle (NERC-Funded – link)

This programme of research is being done in collaboration with Drs Geoff Bromiley, Cees-Jan de Hoog (Edinburgh), and Prof Simon Redfern (Cambridge). The grant has enabled us to hire Dr Eleanor Mare as a postdoc (at St Andrews). Other players are Mr Craig Walton (MGeol student), Fawn Holland (Undergraduate research intern), Prof Sharon Ashbrook & Dr Dan Dawson (Chemistry, St Andrews), and Dr Colin Jackson (Smithsonian Institution). I also collaborate with Dr Eva Stüeken in our Gas-Sources Mass Spectrometry Laboratory (Thermo MAT-253 attached to a bespoke gas-line) where we are establishing a protocol for the isotopic analysis of trace amounts of nitrogen in geological materials.

New constraints on the volcanic history of Earth’s sibling planet, Venus (Royal Society-Funded)

Volcanism is a primary input to the chemistry of planetary surfaces. This project will derive an experimental framework (diffusion experiments) with which to interpret preexisting argon isotope data and aims to constrain the volcanic history of Earth’s sibling, Venus. This project is being conducted in collaboration with Prof Darren Mark (SUERC).

The origin and development of telluric planetary atmospheres

This study is a collaborative effort with Dr Duncan Forgan (Astronomy, St Andrews). We are modelling the relative impact fluxes to the atmosphere-bearing telluric planets to assess the role of exogenic stimuli and atmospheric growth (positive or negative).

Diamond-formation in Earth’s mantle

We primarily apply stable isotope geochemistry (C-N mostly, but recently using O and Noble gases) to address the origin of diamond-forming carbon in Earth’s silicate mantle. This programme of Research is being done in collaboration Prof Fin Stuart (SUERC), Mr James Crosby (former MSc student, now at Cambridge), Drs Sahsa Verchovsky, Frances Jenner, Feargus Abernethy (Open University), Steve Shirey (Carnegie Institution for Science), and Francis McCubbin (NASA).

Exoplanets

Earth is a planet within a solar system, and our little blue dot is habitable to life, bizarrely. We now know of many other solar systems in the cosmos, termed exosystems. Additionally, astronomers have developed some really awesome methods enabling us to observe and characterize many, many exoplanets in these exosystems. This means geologists are now required to work alongside astronomers to constrain the environmental conditions of these exoplanets with the ultimate aim of addressing if they’re potentially habitable, or not. In short, we want to know what’s going on in these exosystems (because they’re there), but we appreciate the need to better understand the geological history of our own solar system before we can fully understand exosystems. 

To this end we have established the St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science, a collaborative endeavor between astronomers and geoscientists. Furthermore, because there are huge societal ramifications to the answer of the question (are we alone?), we have broadened the center away from purely physical sciences and includes members from the School of Philosophy.

We are very excited about our future, and we greatly look forward to working with the many other groups around the world who share our passion for understanding where we come from, and whether or not we are alone in the cosmos.

For more information follow this link

 

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