Primitive organics available to the early Earth


Primitive organics available to the early Earth


Project Description


Dr. Queenie Hoi Shan Chan (Royal Holloway University of London, Department of Earth Sciences)  – Contact me

Dr. Alex Dickson, Royal Holloway University of London Department of Earth Sciences

Dr. Ashley King, Natural History Museum


Project background

Organic compounds are considered as essential requirements for life. While the high abundances of organic compounds on the surface of Earth can sustain life, their presence is not limited to the Earth. Organic molecules that are vital for terrestrial biology, such as nucleobases and amino acids, have also been identified and confirmed to be indigenous to the hosting meteorites since the 1970s.

About 4% of all recovered meteorite falls are carbonaceous chondrites that played a significant role in the origin of organic matter on Earth. The majority of organic matter (>50% of total organic carbon) in meteorites is in the form of structurally complex insoluble organic matter (IOM) carbon macromolecules.

Research methodology

This project will investigate the IOM structure within primitive meteorites newly recovered on the Earth surface by obtaining the IOM through demineralisation of the meteorites. You will investigate the Winchcombe and Tarda meteorites for their IOM contents, by correlating their mineral compositions (by SEM-EDX), to their C, N elemental abundances (by elemental analyser). You will then study the molecular structure and moieties of the IOM by synchrotron NanoInfrared and Raman spectroscopy at the diamond Light Source, in order to anticipate the initial, unaltered organic inventory delivered to our early Earth, prior to the onset of life on Earth.


You will be trained in extraterrestrial sample handling, thin section preparation, SEM-EDX, Raman spectroscopy and in the highly specialised NanoIR technique. For the use of the Diamond Light Source facilities, training will be provided by the beamline chief scientist and the managers of the instruments.

Person specification

We are looking for a student with interest in laboratory analysis, and with a passion for organic geochemistry and meteorities. Laboratory experiences and some knowledge of meteorites is desirable but not essential.


  • Chan, Q. H. S. Watson, J. S. Sephton, M. A. O’Brien, A. C. and Hallis L. J. (2022). The amino acid and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon hydrocarbon compositions of the promptly recovered CM2 Winchcombe carbonaceous chondrite. Meteoritic and Planetary Science.
  • Chan Q. H. S. and Zolensky M. (2022) Water and organics in meteorites. In New frontiers in astrobiology (eds. R. Thombre and P. Vaishampayan). Elsevier.
  • Chan Q. H. S., Stephant A., Franchi I. A., Zhao X., Brunetto R., Kebukawa Y., Noguchi T., Johnson D., Price M. C., Harriss K. H., Zolensky M. E., and Grady M. M. (2021) Organic matter and water from asteroid Itokawa. Scientific Reports 11(5125).
  • King A., Daly L., Rowe J., Joy K., Greenwood R., Devillepoix H., Suttle M., Chan Q. H. S., (2022) The Winchcombe meteorite, a unique and pristine witness from the outer solar system. Science Advances.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 19th May 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. Please note that all international awards have been made for our programme for 2023 so we will not be accepting applications from international candidates,
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

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