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PhD Student (H/F) : Searching for traces of life in Martian rocks

This offer is available in the following languages:
Français - Anglais

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General information

Reference : UPR4301-MARPER-030
Workplace : ORLEANS
Date of publication : Monday, February 10, 2020
Scientific Responsible name : Dr. Frances Westall et Dr. Frédéric Foucher
Type of Contract : PhD Student contract / Thesis offer
Contract Period : 36 months
Start date of the thesis : 1 November 2020
Proportion of work : Full time
Remuneration : 2 135,00 € gross monthly

Description of the thesis topic

The context for this thesis are the martian missions ExoMars 2020 (European/Russian), Mars 2020 (NASA) missions and the return of samples from Mars. The thesis project focuses on the in situ investigation of potential traces of past life and the distinction between these traces and those produced by exogenous carbonaceous material (ECM), either on the surface of Mars, in returned samples, or in analogue materials using experimental methods. The recruited doctoral student will prepare artificial Martian sediments doped with artificially fossilised bacteria and/or with carbonaceous material similar to that found in meteorites. Then he/she will expose the samples to different degrees of Martian metamorphism before characterizing them with models of the flight instruments of the two missions, as well as with various laboratory instruments (Raman and IR spectrometers, light and electron microscopy, LA- ICP-MS, NanoSIMS, ToF-SIMS, NMR ...) in preparation for investigations of returned samples. Preliminary tests have demonstrated the importance of this kind of exercise and the necessity in demonstrating the strengths and limitations of the ExoMars 2020 payload. Such collaborative tests are also the best way to obtain the most benefit from mission results and to interpret future data from the two fortcoming Martian missions.

Work Context

At the Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire (CBM - UPR4301), located in the CNRS campus of Orléans, France, the PhD student will work in the team “Chemistry, Imagery and Exobiology” and more specifically in the “Exobiology” group directed by Dr. Frances Westall, a geologist. More generally, the CBM laboratory develops research at the interface of chemistry, biology and physics to study the molecular mechanisms that sustain life or dysfunctions leading to diseases, as well as research in exobiology. The student will be supervised by Dr. Frances Westall and Dr. Frédéric Foucher, the physicist in the group. The “Exobiology” group at the CBM is internationally known for its research on a broad range of topics: from the study of the oldest traces of life on Earth, to the search for life on Mars, prebiotic chemistry, and planetary exploration… It is deeply involved in the future ExoMars 2020 mission. The recruited student will have ready access to and training in different techniques. He/she will participate in the interpretation of the data of the ExoMars 2020 mission.

The thesis will be co-funded by the French space agency, CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales), and by the Région Centre Val de Loire.

Additional Information

Qualifications / Expertise:
• Master in geology or in planetology preferentially but candidates with a Master in chemistry/physics or in microbiology will be also considered.
• Ability to work in a team, as well as being autonomous
• Curiosity, open mindedness to other domains, and inventiveness
• Ability to work in an international scientific team
• A good command of the English language is required for the communication (written and oral) of results and working in the ExoMars 2020 mission group.

The procedure of recruitment will be as follow:
-First, candidates are asked to send their CV and a letter of motivation via the website “”, by February 29. Only applications received via this CNRS procedure will be considered.
- Then, the chosen candidates will be interviewed by the scientific team in March (visioconference possible).
-Finally, the chosen candidate will be interviewed in June by the CNES, the French Space Agency, who will be the main employer. It is important to note that until this last recruitment step is accomplished, funding for the thesis is not guaranteed.

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