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Investigating the feasibility of finding life on Titan

Background: The possibility of finding signs of life on Titan has intrigued scientists for the past decade. With liquids in the form of rivers, lakes and seas on its surface and a thick atmosphere that is chemically active and rich in carbon compounds, conditions are at least partially favourable. However, the cold surface temperatures and harsh atmospheric composition mean that any biological compound could be potentially unstable, therefore decreasing its chances of detection. Moreover, photochemical reactions instigated by solar photons create hazes in the Titan atmosphere, hindering our observational capabilities.

Project description: The aim of this project is to expose biological compounds to the conditions found on the surface of Titan, in a controlled laboratory setting and will contribute to the ongoing search for life beyond Earth. The student will gain experience in the use of advanced spectroscopic techniques, high vacuum environments and biological sample preparation. In particular, the student will be responsible for the characterization of a light source in order to reliably recreate the solar spectrum for such photostability experiments.

Requirements:

  • Interest in cross-field research at the interface between physics and biology
  • Knowledge of spectroscopic techniques; previous laboratory experience is desirable
  • A good mix of curiosity, enthusiasm and hard-working attitude
  • Good proficiency in spoken and written English

 

Start: November 2020 (negotiable)