Science and Technology Facilities Council
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Young researchers to explore the mysteries of our Solar System

Three young researchers are starting exciting new fellowships in UK Universities dedicated to exploring and uncovering the mysteries of our Solar System.

The new positions – part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Aurora Fellowships scheme – all begin this academic year and will run for three years. The next round of recruitment for Aurora Fellows was announced this month on 7th October and will close on 14th January 2009.

The scheme, now in its third year, is dedicated to enhancing the UK’s capabilities and cross-disciplinary approach to planetology and astrobiology to enable the UK to fully exploit the European Space Agency’s Aurora programme and the continuing science programme.

The primary objective of Aurora is a long-term European plan for robotic and human exploration of the Solar System initially targeting the Moon and Mars. The second objective is the development of technologies for future planetary missions.

Previous fellows have all contributed to the UK’s involvement in Aurora particularly to its flagship mission ExoMars, due for launch in 2013, which will search Mars for evidence of life. Dr Manish Patel, a 2007 Aurora fellow at The Open University, is a co-investigator on the Ultraviolet and Visible Light Spectrometer which will fly on the ExoMars mission. This UK-led instrument, operating from the spacecraft lander, will monitor ultraviolet light levels on the surface of the planet for the first time. Ultraviolet light is lethal to life in high doses so results from the instrument will help establish likely conditions where life might exist.

Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of STFC, said, "This award scheme is proving incredibly successful in developing the careers of young researchers and strengthening the UK’s position in European space exploration. There is still much that is unknown about our own Solar System and through projects like this we can ensure that the UK plays an important part in new discoveries."

The three new Fellows are:

• Dr Matthew Balme from the Earth and Environmental Sciences department at The Open University. Dr Balme will examine the extent to which recent geological activity on Mars has been influenced by changes in its climate. Understanding current processes on the surface of Mars and the past and present role of climate improves our knowledge of the planet’s history and thus the chances of one day detecting past or present life.

• Dr Henner Busemann, whose fellowship at the University of Manchester will concentrate on determining the abundances of noble gases and their isotopic ratios in a range of materials and interplanetary dust particles. The aim of this research is to shed light on the conditions and processes responsible for terrestrial planet formation in the very early Solar System.

• Dr Peter Grindrod from University College London. Dr Grindrod’s research involves laboratory experiments, computer modelling and observations of Martian landforms in order to determine the quantities of ice and hydrated minerals present on Mars together with the most likely sites for it on the planet. Highlighting areas where subsurface water reservoirs may be present will enable more accurate targeting of future Mars missions that will search for evidence of life.

Notes for editors


Images are available from the STFC Press Office


Julia Short

STFC Press Office

Tel: +44 (0)1793 442 012




Recruitment for next round of Aurora Fellows (closing date 14th January 2009)

Science and Technology Facilities Council The Science and Technology Facilities Council ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange partnerships.

The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Physics, Particle Astrophysics, Nuclear Physics, Space Science, Synchrotron Radiation, Neutron Sources and High Power Lasers. In addition the Council manages and operates three internationally renowned laboratories:

• The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire

• The Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire

• The UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh

The Council gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institute Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the European organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and the European Space Agency (ESA). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

The Council distributes public money from the Government to support scientific research. Between 2008 and 2009 we will invest approximately £787 million.

The Council is a partner in the UK space programme, coordinated by the British National Space Centre.

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