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Experiments on the alteration of frozen surfaces in the outer Solar System


The Elsaesser group is working in the field of experimental biophysics and space sciences at Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany. We are interested in fundamental aspects of how space conditions affect organic molecules and biomarkers on planetary surfaces and atmospheres. We perform laboratory experiments to decipher chemical pathways of deterioration of such molecules by studying the impact of energetic radiation in planetary and space simulation chambers. This Master’s project aims to implement an experimental setup to simulate the condition of frozen surfaces, such as the surfaces of comets and frozen asteroids in the Kuiper belt, and to study the alteration induced by energetic charged particles (keV electrons) and UV photons (H Lyman alpha) on organic molecules that might be present on such bodies. 

Project description: 

For this project experiments will simulate the low temperature of frozen surfaces in the Solar System and the effects of solar and cosmic particles on such surfaces. Experiments will be performed by means of an ultra-high vacuum chamber (UHVC) equipped with a cryocooler to cool down samples to the temperatures of frozen surfaces. The main focus of the project will be the implementation of the experimental setup and will consist of:


- interface the UHVC with the gas-mixing chamber;

- calibrate the temperature of the samples;

- estimate the electron fluence on samples as a function of irradiation time;

- study the changes induced by temperature and irradiation on frozen water and organic compounds.


Activities will be carried out by acquiring infrared spectra of samples as a function of temperature and irradiation conditions and by performing qualitative and quantitative analyses of the spectra.


  • High motivation to work in a multi-disciplinary environment and to collaborate with physicists and chemists in laboratory activities.

  • -Basic knowledge of Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy.
  • -Knowledge of data analysis software (e.g. Origin, Microsoft Excel, or similar) is desirable
  • -Good proficiency in spoken and written English is mandatory (activities will be fully carried out in English)