PhD with me at logo

Funded by the logo


Dr Byron Adams (UCL, Department of Earth Sciences)

Dr Matt Fox (UCL, Department of Earth Sciences)

Prof Fin Stuart (Glasgow University, Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre)

For more details contact: Byron Adams (

Deadline for application: 4th January 2024 (including references)

How to apply: Application through UCL graduate school portal

Start date: No later than the 1st October 2024

About the project/role

The most common way to estimate the erosion rate of a landscape is to calculate the mean residence time of sediment in a river basin by measuring the accumulation of cosmogenic nuclides (rare isotopes formed close to the surface by the bombardment of cosmic radiation) within it. However, the low production rate of nuclides such as 10Be and 26Al means that their concentration within a mineral is beyond the detection limit of modern mass spectrometers. To get around this issue, studies amalgamate thousands of mineral grains to produce a measurable signal in order to calculate a “basin-averaged erosion rate.” However, this amalgamation process obscures the distribution of nuclide concentrations within a river, diminishing the information contained within the sample and making it impossible to determine whether the underpinning assumptions are valid. This project will work to circumvent the issues related to amalgamating samples by using different target minerals, cosmognenic nuclide systems, and sample processing techniques.

A significant component of the project will involve measuring trace amounts of cosmogienically-derived noble gases within river sediments to develop our understanding of distritbutions of concentrations with detrital samples. The laboratory results will be combined with landscape evolution models to better predict how forcing factors such as climate, tectonics, or anthropogenic activity affect erosion rates within changing landscapes. The comparison of model outputs and observations will also provide useful constraints on when it may or may not be appropriate to use basin-averaged techniques.

This project is fully funded for 4 years via The Royal Society and the UCL Department of Earth Sciences, and includes an annual tax-free stipend at the normal RCUK rate (£20,198 in 2022/23). Reseach and travel costs will be provided by the grant as well. Non-UK citizens are able to apply for this studentship.

About you

This project would suit a quantitative scientist with at least a 4-yr degree in geoscience, engineering, or chemistry and a strong interest in geochemistry, mass spectrometry, and landscape evolution who is keen to develop laboratory skills and integrate them with fieldwork and numerical modelling. The student will get a lot of hands on experience working in the laboratories developing new, green techniques for high-throughput mineral separation techniques, and working with gas-source mass spectrometers to develop best practices for measuring minute amounts of cosmogenic noble gases. Although not a prerequisite, experience with programming and statistical languages, Matlab, Python, or C, is desirable. The student will be required to carry out fieldwork in rugged and often remote terranes so independence, physical fitness and an ability to drive a vechicle will be important.

Our commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

As London’s Global University, we know diversity fosters creativity and innovation, and we want our community to represent the diversity of the world’s talent. We are committed to equality of opportunity, to being fair and inclusive, and to being a place where we all belong. We therefore particularly encourage applications from candidates who are likely to be underrepresented in UCL’s workforce. For more details on our Department’s EDI intiatives see more details here.