Your feedback is important to us
Please take two minutes at the end of your visit to help us improve our information and services.
Skip to content The Open University

  1. Study at the OU
  2. Research degrees
  3. Research areas
  4. Planetary and Space Sciences
  5. Astrobiology and habitats for life

Astrobiology and habitats for life

On this page

We use a range of cutting-edge methods from molecular biology to orbital flight experiments to understand the way in which microorganisms persist in extreme environments, including investigations on how microorganisms interact with the lithosphere to gain energy and nutrients. We investigate the biosignatures that life can leave in extreme environments that could be used in life detection. Projects also use theoretical methods to quantify the conditions on other planetary bodies and their potential to support life, past and present. Our work is used to prepare for future space missions such as Mars sample return.

Qualifications available:

PhD or MPhil


For detailed information on current fees visit Fees and funding.

Entry requirements:

Minimum 2:1 (or equivalent)

Potential research projects

  • Study of microbe-mineral interactions in extreme environments
  • Investigations of biosignatures created by life
  • Study of behaviour of organics and biomolecules in simulated extraterrestrial conditions
  • Theoretical study of habitable conditions on other planetary surfaces

 Please also see further opportunities.

Current / recent research projects

Examples of current projects include:

  • Survival of microorganisms in extreme environments
  • The use of microorganisms in space applications
  • Microbe-mineral interactions and microbial weathering
  • Interplanetary transfer of microorganisms.

Projects involve both ground and space-based experiments. Within the former we investigate the effects of simulated Mars conditions (UV and near vacuum) on the survival of microorganisms. For in-orbit work we use opportunities like the ESA funded BIOPAN VI and EXPOSE missions, which is aimed at investigating the effect of exposure to low Earth orbit on the survival of microorganisms. We also investigate the sequestering of bio-essential elements from volcanic rocks to determine the use of microorganisms in space applications.

Further information

If you have an enquiry specific to this research area please contact:

Astrid Peterkin, Research Co-ordinator
+44 (0)1908 659845

For general enquiries please contact the Research Degrees Team via the link under ‘Your questions’ on the right of the page.