This multidisciplinary project includes both computational and experiment methods (the successful candidate will be thoroughly trained in both). Within the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle University, under the supervision of Dr. Dawson, the candidate will use both classical and quantum mechanical modelling methods, primarily molecular dynamics and density functional theory, to setup and analyse the absorption, polymerisation and formation of small organic molecules (primarily amino acids) on mineral surfaces (e.g., hydroxides, silicates, carbonates and borates), as exemplified in Figure 2. The student will have access to a variety of local and national high-performance computing facilities.
At the University of St. Andrews Isotope Geochemistry Laboratory, under the supervision of Dr. Stueeken, experiments will be conducted to assess how much total organic material adsorbs to mineral surfaces. A variety of mineral assemblages, organic monomers and fluid compositions will be explored, mimicking conditions found in natural environments on a prebiotic world. The student will utilise a wide range of experimental characterisation methods, including elemental analyser-isotopic ratio mass spectrometry, scanning electron microscopy, electron probe microanalysis and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.
Through Dr. Dawson’s extensive international research network, there will opportunities for the successful candidate to undertake placements and visits at leading computational materials research groups in the US and Asia.