Untangling the Earliest Stages of Planetary Differentiation

Lead Research Organisation: The Open University
Department Name: Physical Sciences


The iron and stony-iron meteorites are fragments of protoplanets broken apart early in solar system history, providing a unique snap shot of processes during and after the earliest stages of core formation and planetary differentiation. In order to understand the geochemical and mineralogical patterns of these processes it is necessary to first understand which samples originate from common parent bodies, as this processes has been repeated many times, with samples of >>50 such bodies present in our meteorite collections.
High precision oxygen 3-isotope measurements are the only geochemical tool that allows us to readily explore the links between silicate-rich mantle and crustal rocks with the iron-nickel-rich iron meteorites that originate from protoplanetary cores. While silicates are rare in iron meteorites that formed by planetary differentiation other oxygen-bearing phases such as chromites and phospahates are more abundant and can be used to map out the relationships between different meteorites and groups.
The work will capatalise on the very small sample size (<100 micro gram) and high precision laser fluorination system at the Open University. A variety of sample preparation techniques will be employed (including microdrilling, acid dissolution) to investigate a number of key meteorite groups to understand their inter-relationships and processes that control isotopic fractionation during planetary differentiation.
The work will involve detailed petrography of iron and stony-iron meteorites using analytical SEM and electron microprobe to characterise the samples and their oxygen-bearing phases/inclusions.
Once clear groupings of samples have been identified, the minor and trace element geochemistry of the samples will be determined by ICPMS, which together with the mineralogy and isotopic measurements will be used to explore the processes of planetary differentiation - such as timescales, fractionation and partitioning processes, temperatures, body sizes, etc.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ST/N50421X/1 30/09/2015 30/03/2021
1809435 Studentship ST/N50421X/1 30/09/2016 31/01/2020 Richard Windmill
Description Europlanet
Amount £1,585 (GBP)
Funding ID 18-EPN4-029 
Organisation Europlanet 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country France
Start 01/2019 
End 02/2019
Description Europlanet 18-EPN4-030
Amount £1,500 (GBP)
Funding ID 18-EPN4-030 
Organisation Europlanet 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country France
Start 04/2019 
End 05/2019
Description Moon night 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The activity was a Moon night organised by members of the School of Physical Sciences for the general public. This activity involved engaging with members of the public on research activities and introducing and teaching simple planetary evolution concepts (e.g. differentiation). There were >100 attendees and the event was held on a Friday evening in December 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition is held at the Royal Society Building at Carlton House Terrace in London. I helped with a stand entitled "Living on the Moon" which demonstrated possible techniques for establishing a future lunar base including 3D printing of regolith and general lunar science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/2019/summer-science-exhibition/
Description Talk at Herdman Society, Liverpool University Nov. 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact I gave a talk about my PhD research and the broader applications of meteoritics in answering geological questions at the Herdman Society talk on 12th Nov 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019